The Sharks will have to overcome a growing injury crisis – never mind the matter of their form reversal – if they are to pull off the upset of the 2008 Super 14 and beat the champions-elect at the Jade Stadium on Friday.
Mike Greenaway of IOL is on tour with the Sharks.
Over the past fortnight the Sharks have lost lock Steven Sykes, flyhalf Frederic Michalak, captain Johann Muller and centre Bradley Barritt.
Now flank Keegan Daniel and hooker Bismarck du Plessis are looking very doubtful for the tour finale against the Crusaders.
Of the above, Muller is hopeful that he will recover to lead the team in their backs-against-the wall attack on the cruising Cantabrians, but Sykes is back in Durban, Michalak in France, and Daniel and Du Plessis all but counted out.
There is hope that Barritt might recover, but the way in which he came off the practice field on Monday holding his shoulder (he could not play against the Waratahs because of the injury) suggests it might be a vain hope.
The loss of the combative Du Plessis (bruised sternum) would be a major setback given the hooker’s physical contribution to the Sharks’ cause, but it would provide an opportunity for the explosive Craig Burden to state his case.
The latter was famously a wing about a year ago before Dick Muir and John Plumtree suggested to him that his power and build would better suit the No 2 jersey, and he has impressed in his cameos this season when he has substituted Bismarck.
Burden was sent to Murray Mexted’s Academy in New Zealand last June, where New Zealand’s best scrumming experts accelerated his conversion.
The Sharks’ coaching staff have not yet officially ruled out Du Plessis, but the 23-year-old is in continuing pain and the position he plays opens him to further aggravation of the chest injury.
In another expected change to the front row, B J Botha will return at tight-head prop for Jannie du Plessis. The latter had a good game in general play against the Waratahs, but the coaches will be looking for Botha to spearhead a scrumming assault on the Crusaders.
In the second row, Plumtree’s choices have been narrowed by the unavailability of veteran Johan Ackermann. The 37-year-old last week was expected to come over for this match, but he cannot get leave from his new job with a petroleum company in Cape Town, and so instead of playing for the Sharks in potentially their most important Super 14 match of the year, he will instead be playing a club game for Hamiltons.
If Muller can play, he will join Albert van den Berg in the second row, with last week’s captain and lock, A J Venter, moving out to his favoured position of blind-side flank, in place of Daniel, who has been struggling with a lower back injury since the second-round match against the Highlanders.
Venter might well have been picked on the flank even if Daniel had been fit because the Sharks urgently need to beep up their contesting of the breakdowns, where they have been outmuscled by both the Brumbies and the Waratahs.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders have a concern over their No 8, Mose Tuiali’i, who injured a hamstring against the Blues last week. If he can’t play, 19-year-old Nasi Manu will come in.
That solitary injury really is child’s play for the Crusaders, given the form they are in and the injury crisis besetting their opponents.Tweet