Muir banks on big guns

The Sharks will play a “formidable” side against the Valke in their final Absa Currie Cup first round game according to coach Dick Muir.

This weekend’s game was meant to see the team rotated under Muir’s dual squad system, but a 31-19 loss to the Vodacom Cheetahs has placed the Sharks under pressure not to lose touch with the leading group.

“You will see a formidable side run out against the Valke,” Muir told keo.co.za. “It will be a side closer to the one that will take us into the second round of the competition. We don’t see it as a weaker or stronger side. One is simply younger and more inexperienced than the other.”

According to Muir some of the youngsters who have formed part of the alternative side are touring with the Under 21′s to Welkom and Kroonstad, in preparation for the National League which commences on 19 August.

But the coach rejects the notion that his decision not to rotate the team is because of recent results. “There’s no pressure to win this game as far as we are concerned,” he said. “We’ll not be forced into drastic changes and we’ll continue to play the exciting brand of rugby that you’ve seen from us so far.

“Against the Cheetahs mistakes cost us the game. We were not able to convert scoring opportunities to points and we have to do that this weekend. It’s something we’ve been working on and I think you’ll see us rectify that situation.”

Muir continues to endorse the squad system and highlighted it’s benefits over the first half of the tournament.

“It’s unfortunate that we lost those two games [against Griquas and the Cheetahs] but that’s not the end of the world,” he said. “We’ve seen exponential improvements in our players conditioning and our skill levels have improved. But our primary aim at the outset was to be able to identify talented players who can play at Super 14 level and I think we’ve achieved our goals. We know now who can cut it and who can’t.”

Flyhalf Brad Barritt is unlikely to start as a result of a shoulder injury sustained in the Cheetahs game and Muir has hinted that Ruan Pienaar could fill the role in Brakpan on Friday. Pienaar is widely thought to be a better No 10 than a scrumhalf and Nick Mallett has even suggested that he is the answer for the Springboks in the position. The 22-year-old ended Saturday’s game at flyhalf and his halfback pairing with Scott Mathie created attacking opportunities late in the game.

Muir will reward fullback Francois Steyn with a run on start after the 19-year-old showed why he is so highly rated with a series of piecing runs and astute tactical kicks on debut against the Cheetahs. Andries Strauss and Waylon Murray will form a new midfield combination while Ryan Kankowski is likely to start at No 8 with captain AJ Venter shifting to the second row. Wouter Moore or Steven Sykes will shift to the bench.

Muir is awaiting the results of a disciplinary hearing of prop Brendon Botha, who was cited for stamping on the head of Richardt Strauss, before announcing his team.

By Ryan Vrede