The cavalry looks like it has arrived for the weary Sharks team, and it is not a moment too soon for players that have been in the front line and under heavy fire for nine consecutive weeks.
Mike Greenaway, IOL.
Of the greater Sharks squad that went to war back in February, there were seven casualties unable to participate in the Battle of Bloemfontein last week, but five of them have recovered sufficiently to cause the team announcement for Saturday’s clash with the Crusaders to be delayed until this afternoon.
Only Ruan Pienaar and Alistair Hargreaves are not being considered, which means back in the frame are Bismarck du Plessis, JP Pietersen, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, Jean Deysel and Waylon Murray.
Some of those were only expected back after next week’s bye, so their availability is a shot in the arm. Hargreaves’s Super 14 race is run (serious ankle injury), but Pienaar will be back after the bye.
“We are not making excuses, but some of our guys are overplayed,” said coach John Plumtree.
“We are hitting round ten, and it is fair to say that from a physical point of view, we are hanging for the bye.
“There has been some criticism of us, but maybe people should give us some breathing space. We are working hard, even though it did not look like it against the Cheetahs. We really need reinforcements, and hopefully there will be a fair number of them back this week.”
After the bye, the Sharks have three games left before the semi-finals, and it was suggested to Plumtree that the loss to the Cheetahs possibly came at the right time – if ever there is a good time to lose, that is.
“When you get a kick up the bum you think about your game,” he said.
“We got it against the Reds, refocused and won our next three games, and now have lost again. I would like to think we are better than that, that we don’t need these occasional wake-up calls, but it has happened.
“I think you will find that we will deliver a passionate performance against the Crusaders in front of our home crowd, and we know that we have to be at our very best to stand a chance of beating a champion team,” Plumtree continued.
“The Crusaders traditionally lift their game round about this time in the competition, and we have to lift with them.”
The Crusaders announced their team yesterday, and All Black captain Richie McCaw is indeed back after over a month on the sidelines with injury.
However, they are waiting on another key player, scrumhalf Andy Ellis, who might be out of the game because of a rib injury incurred against the Stormers. He has been bracketed with Kahn Fotauli’i. Coach Todd Black-adder has been forced to start Ryan Crotty in midfield due to Casey Laulala’s broken arm, a move that will see Tim Bateman shift to No 13.
“Andy is running around and doing everything we’re asking, but we want to leave it until the last minute before making a decision,” said Blackadder.
All Black lock Ross Filipo and Kade Poki are back on the bench. Michael Paterson will cover McCaw at flank, given George Whitelock’s injury.Tweet