Dick Muir has recalled his key players for the Absa Currie Cup semi-final against the Vodacom Free State Cheetahs.
A cocktail of public pressure and an injury to Adi Jacobs has forced Muir to select Brent Russell for the Bloemfontein trip. Russell is one of two changes to the backline, with scrumhalf Scott Mathie making way for the return of Ruan Pienaar.
Last Saturday’s 48-10 victory over the Valke was bittersweet from the Sharks management’s perspective, as an overzealous backline became far to cavalier, and subsequently added only 12 points to their 36-3 half-time lead. In this sense, Russell’s experience will benefit the youthful back division, especially in a match of this magnitude.
Butch James fails to unseat 19-year-old Francois Steyn at flyhalf, the latter’s boot probably giving him the edge on the Springbok.
Meanwhile, in the pack Warren Britz returns to openside flank and his duel with Free State’s breakdown menace, Kabamba Floors will be a focal point in a match that many believe will be dominated by the forwards.
Having served a one game suspension, Springbok second-rower Johann Muller replaces veteran Johan Ackermann, while Kees Lensing and Bismarck du Plessis partner BJ Botha in the front row.
A seven match losing streak against Rassie Erasmus’ charges seems to be the furthest thing from Muir’s mind going into the match.
“There is an expectation and belief that we can go and do it, so although we are underdogs, we feel this is our year,” he told the media. Â
“There is a lot to play for, the guys are very excited.Â At the start of the season our goal was a home semi, which we havenâ€™t achieved, so we havenâ€™t fulfilled what we set out to, however, the opportunity [of a home final] is still there.”
The Sharks won four of their seven away games this season, two of those against Vodacom Western Province and the Vodacom Blue Bulls. They’ve faltered against the Lions, Cheetahs and Griquas, but Muir was adamant that they were capable of causing an upset at Vodacom Park.
“We are very comfortable with where we are at, and that we are a side that can beat any of the semi-finalists away from home, so we are excited to be where we are,” he said.
He also hinted that we might see a more conservative approach from his side than we have become accustomed to.
“We need to make sure that we take the points we can, to win a semi by one point is good enough, so the approach is rather different to any of the other games.
“There is a lot of excitement in the air, and that is what it is all about, to make sure we channel our energies in the right direction and make sure that our guys arenâ€™t in awe of the situation.”
Sharks Team: 15. JP Pietersen 14. Odwa Ndungane 13. Waylon Murray 12. Bradley Barritt 11. Brent Russell 10. Francois Steyn 9. Ruan Pienaar 8. Ryan Kankowski 7. Jacques Botes 6. Warren Britz (Captain) 5. Johann Muller 4. Steven Sykes 3. BJ Botha 2. Bismarck du Plessis 1. Kees Lensing Replacements 16. Skipper Badenhorst 17. Deon Carstens 18. Johan Ackermann 19. Keegan Daniel 20. Scott Mathie 21. Butch James 22. Gcobani Bobo