The Sharks have been training under the radar in Sydney for their Super Rugby final in Hamilton against the Chiefs on Saturday and that has meant they have been able to keep secret the identity of who is going to mark game-breaker Sonny Bill Williams.
So who is going to replace injured Tim Whitehead at inside centre?
Coach John Plumtree would have explored various options for a key position that is the one problem area for the Sharks after Whitehead broke a bone in his hand against the Stormers in the semi-final last week.
Meyer Bosman is an option although his defence could be a problem given how Jean de Villiers and a few other centres in the competition have run over the former Free Stater. There is the return to fitness of Paul Jordaan (hamstring), who was the outside centre partner to Whitehead for much of the Sharks’ season but could do a job at 12 seeing as he played there at schoolboy level. And he is only 19, after all, so his old schoolboy position is not that long ago.
Another alternative is Patrick Lambie, should he be passed fit after struggling for weeks with an ankle ligament injury originally sustained in the second Test against England.
The conundrum is that whoever is picked at 12 has to counter the one-man band that is the free-wheeling, multiple-offloading, rampaging heavyweight that is Sonny Bill Williams, who will be saying farewell to New Zealand rugby ahead of his time in Japan and rugby league in Australia.
Who would be the best to stand up to him? Bosman? Unlikely. Jordaan? A big ask of a teenager? Lambie? The right man for the job, even if he gives away quite a bit in height and a quarter of his body weight, and then if he is fit, Plumtree might also consider moving him back to fullback for Riaan Viljoen.
Whatever the case, Plumtree faces a big call at 12, and there is no question that the loss of the solid Whitehead is a setback. But it is not only the inside centre that will face down Williams.
Flyhalf Frederic Michalak will encounter his share of the defensive action, and the diminutive Frenchman says he is looking forward to delivering for the Sharks – on all fronts.
“I am convinced that we can win this week,” Michalak said from the Sharks’ base at Coogee Beach in Sydney. “We have worked really hard to get into the position we are in now after a few setbacks earlier in our campaign.
“Everyone came back stronger and with a lot of purpose after that defeat to the Lions (in the week before the break for the June internationals) and we’ve taken confidence out of our results (victories over the Bulls, Cheetahs, Reds and Stormers). We’ve worked really hard.”
The team has developed confidence to win games at the business end of the competition that they would not have won earlier in the season.
“Playing in finals and semi-finals are really big games and are about having the maturity to put points on the board when the opportunities arise,” said Michalak, who has been capped 47 times from France.
“I accept the responsibility to take those opportunities and that is why you saw me kicking those (two) drop-goals against the Stormers. We knew we had to score points whenever we were in striking distance, and we did achieve that.”
This will be his last game for the Sharks ahead of his joining French club Toulon, and he says he will do his utmost for a team with whom he has spent three seasons.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Sharks,” he said. “I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play for them, and now that we’re in the final, I will do everything in my ability to help them win. It would be a great reward for all the hard work we’ve put in this season. I’ve very much enjoyed participating in the competition with the kind of players the Sharks have. I would love to win for them.” – The Mercury