at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Blockbusting Willem Alberts has been picked at lock for the Sharks’ Super Rugby play-off against the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.
Anybody who saw the massive boost the burly forward gave the Sharks when he came on in the match last week against the Cheetahs will breathe a sigh of relief.
Alberts, who was making a comeback from a knee injury sustained playing for the Springboks against England, made a telling contribution when he took over from injured youngster Pieter-Steph du Toit, not long before half time.
The selection of Alberts in the second row means that coach John Plumtree is keeping intact the loose trio that has been playing so well as a combination in recent games.
Ryan Kankowski is back to his best at No 8 and Keegan Daniel and Marcell Coetzee have complimented each other in contrasting roles as flankers.
Interestingly, veteran lock Steven Sykes is back from injury and available for selection but has been left on the bench as Plumtree looks to use the explosive Alberts alongside the fast-improving bruiser Anton Bresler.
In the midfield, the combination of Tim Whitehead at 12 and Paul Jordaan at 13 has been restored for various reasons.
Frans Steyn, who has played the last three games, is not available, or cup-tied as they say in English soccer, because he was not part of the original Sharks squad, while Jordaan is at last over a hamstring injury he picked up playing for the SA Under-20 team during the IRB Championships in Cape Town in June.
Whitehead himself has only recently recovered from a groin injury.
The Whitehead-Jordaan partnership performed well during the Sharks’ five-match winning streak following their return from their overseas tour.
In a further backline change, injured fullback Patrick Lambie is replaced by Louis Ludik, who did a convincing job in replacing Lambie when he went off midway through the Cheetahs game after he aggravated an ankle injury picked up during the Test series against England.
In changes to the front row, Tendai Mtawarira is over the gastro illness that excluded him from the game against the Cheetahs and replaces Dale Chadwick.
Bismarck du Plessis returns at hooker for Craig Burden, having had a short time on the bench at the weekend before being hauled on to the field at the 30-minute mark.
Speaking from Brisbane, Plumtree said that his team was in good shape despite the inconvenience of a four-hour flight delay in transferring from Sydney to Brisbane.
“We have to make sure we understand that a lot has happened since we beat the Reds (27-22) in the fourth round in Durban,” the coach said.
“That game was a long time ago, they’re a lot better now than they were then, but I think we are as well.
“This is a huge game. There’s home ground advantage for the Reds which is a big factor. They play very well at home and we have to make sure that we play to our own game plan, and that we play with confidence and really take it to them. We don’t want to be chasing them all day.”
Of the changes to the backline, the coach declared: “I’m really happy with the way Louis Ludik has played this year, and Fred (Michalak) has played well at 10 with Pat being out, and with Frans unable to make the trip, there are changes, but we just have to make sure we really kick on the weekend. We’ll focus on what we want to do and not so much on them.”
Plumtree said that in the first half against the Cheetahs, the Sharks found themselves behind the advantage line, and that they could not afford to start in the same vein against the Reds.
“We can’t afford to give them any opportunities. This is a knock-out game and you have to be very accurate in the way you play.
“Defence is also vital. When it comes down to these types of games, your defence has to be on the money. Defence is a huge factor in finals.” – The Mercury