Sharks psyched about Tongan terror

Sharks captain Johann Muller believes Tongan recruit Epi Taione will be a major force in Super Rugby.

Taione arrived in Durban yesterday after finishing the season with Japanese side Sanyo Wild Knights. The 29-year-old has also played for English Premiership sides Newcastle and Sale Sharks, where he was once suspended for biting Munster loose forward Denis Leamy’s ear in the 2006 Heineken Cup – earning him an 18-week ban.

Muller’s initial impressions of Taione is, however, more timid than terror. He believes Taione will add great value to the squad, particularly since his versatility (he has played wing, centre, blindside flank and eighthman) will be an asset in the second half of the Super 14.

“I’ve had a chat to Dick (Muir – Sharks head coach) and the likelihood is that we’ll use him at 7 and 8,” Muller told keo.co.za.

Commenting on the 122kg, 1.93m man mountain Muller gushed: “He’s an absolute monster, just huge. From what I hear he’s not the slowest around, so while he’ll play predominantly in the forwards, he could be used to make an impact in the backline if we’re struggling there.”

Taione has been included in the Sharks’ touring squad but will have to oust some talented loose forwards before getting a run-on start. Keegan Daniel, Jacques Botes and Ryan Kankowski are the incumbent back row, with AJ Venter and Jean Deysel (who was omitted) in reserve.

“Competition is always healthy, and I believe it’s one of the things that have made the Sharks successful in recent years,” Muller said.

“We never see it as a bad thing to have an abundance of options in a couple of positions. Epi will have to work hard for his place, in the same way everyone else here does. But he strikes me as a guy with a great attitude and solid work ethic, so I don’t think he’ll have an issue with that.”

Taione’s first assignment could come against the Reds next weekend. Muller wouldn’t speculate on whether he’d be included in the 22 or not, but was confident that if he was he’d hit the ground running.

“He’s just come off a long season in Japan so match fitness won’t be an issue,” he said. “He’ll take a while to get used to the pace, physicality and intensity of Super Rugby, but as soon as he’s settled his class will come through.

“I expect his speed and size to be an asset under the ELVs as well. You need mobile guys, and if they’re able to make an impact at the contact points and break the line or commit a couple of defenders, that suits our preferred style of play perfectly. I think he could be that man for us.”

By Ryan Vrede

Sharks touring side

Forwards

1. Tendai Mtawarira
2. Deon Carstens
3. Brendon Botha
4. Jannie du Plessis
5. Bismarck du Plessis
6. Craig Burden
7. Skipper Badenhorst
8. Albert van den Berg
9. Johann Muller
10. Steven Sykes
11. AJ Venter
12. Keegan Daniel
13. Jacques Botes
14. Ryan Kankowski
15. Epi Taione

Backs

1. Ruan Pienaar
2. Rory Kockott
3. Frederic Michalak
4. Francois Steyn
5. Bradley Barritt
6. Waylon Murray
7. Adrian Jacobs
8. Jon-Paul Pietersen
9. Odwa Ndungane
10. Stefan Terblanche
11. Henno Mentz