Bittersweet return for Barnard

Griquas pivot Conrad Barnard says he regrets leaving the Sharks.

Barnard joined the Durban-based side in 2004 and made 23 appearances for them before opting for an ill-fated transfer to Italian Super 10 club Padova Petrarca. A move he says in hindsight, was rash and premature.

“I had five months left on my Sharks contract and Dick [Muir] expressly told us that everyone had to play Currie Cup rugby before they decided who they would offer Super 14 contracts,” he told Keo.co.za.

“At the same time I had a two year contract offer from Petrarca and I had to make a career decision.

“So with all the talent coming through at the Sharks, I thought the best thing for me to do was cut my losses and go to Italy.”

But a one-year sortie at the Stadio Plebiscito left the 27-year-old disillusioned and he decided to return to South African in a bid to revive a flagging career.

“It was a stupid decision to leave the Sharks,” he said, the regret evident in his tone.

“But now I’m enjoying my time at Griquas and I’m just looking to make us a successful union. The guys are great and there’s a tremendous team spirit here.”

Griquas shocked the Sharks in their first round fixture, but Barnard said a spate of injuries to backline players could sabotage the chances of his team producing an equally impressive performance.

“It’s going to be a really tough game and what will make it harder is that Herkie [Kruger], Ronnie [Cooke] and Tiger [Mangweni] are all injured.

Of the trio, Kruger, and Cooke are both expected to miss the rest of the Currie Cup. Cooke has suffered a recurrence of the stress fracture to his left leg that had kept him sidelined for almost nine months before he returned in August.

Mangweni has travelled with the team to Durban and will undergo an assessment on an injured knee to determine his availability for the game.

But Barnard refuted suggestions that the injuries would make Griquas a soft target for a Sharks team buoyed by a 82-14 win over the Pumas last Friday.

“We are always competitive and this game will be no different,” he said. “Our backline will have to gel very quickly but we’ll be okay and we’ll give them a few headaches.”

Asked whether they would target the youthful flyhalf/inside centre channel guarded by Frans Steyn and Bradley Barritt, Barnard refused to show his hand.

“Both Frans and Bradley are really good players and to suggest that that could be a weakness in their team would be foolish on our part.

“It could very well be their strength because with youth comes a freedom to try different things, so they will be unpredictable,” he added.

“Brad especially is a tough customer. He is a great defender and has a good step. I watched him as a youngster at school and in the KZN U21 team and he is a special player.”

Sharks prop Kees Lensing warned Keo.co.za earlier in the week that they would be weary of conceding penalties within kicking range as Barnard had been in good kicking form this season.

Barnard leads the points scorer’s list with 125 points, three ahead of the the prolific Williem de Waal.

“Ja, my all-round kicking game has improved a lot,” he said, ” and if they give me half a chance, I’ll try to punish them.”

By Ryan Vrede