Sharks wait on master Michalak to surface

The Sharks believe they’ll get a return on their investment in Frederic Michalak in the Currie Cup final.

The Frenchman was signed from Toulouse at the end of 2007 and was widely expected to thrive in the less structured (than European competitions) Super 14, given his flair and natural inclination to keep possession of the ball, ra
ther than boot it tactically.

However, Michalak suffered a serious knee injury midway through the Super 14 just as he was starting to adjust to the unique requirements of the southern hemisphere showpiece.

Despite signing a three-year deal with Toulouse after this year’s Super 14, Michalak opted to repay the faith the Sharks showed him in by negotiating a late return with the European champions. He’s succeeded in his mission, delivering a series of impressive performances in the team’s march to the final.

But one match stands between Michalak being remembered as a special member of a special team or whether he’ll form part of yet another Sharks side who failed to translate immense potential into on-field success.

The 50-cap international has drifted between the sublime and utterly ridiculous in major play-off matches for both Toulouse and the Tricolores. Sharks supporters will be hoping the former incarnation struts out at Kings park in a fortnight.

“We’ve been very pleased with the way Fred has come on. He’s been outstanding,” Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford told keo.co.za.

“It was a massive blow to lose him in the Super 14 because he was just starting to get close to his best form. But he’s come back from that brilliantly and has been everything we hoped he would.

“I know there are questions about his temperament in the big games, but as far as we’re concerned, those are unfounded. He’ll rise to the task.”

Bashford also scoffed at ongoing suggestions that Michalak’s slight frame (84kg, 1.82m) makes him a liability on defence.

“I’d like to think he’s proven comprehensively that that criticism is nonsense,” he said.

“It may of been an aspect of his game he needed to work on in the early stages of his career, but he’s been around for a while now and has learned how to circumvent his physical inferiority by boxing smart.

“He was never going to be a Butch James in terms of physicality but he’s done his part. Teams will always attack that channel, but we have no concerns about his defensive game. If there is a constant threat there it’s pretty easy to shore up that channel.”

There is, however, no clarity on who will replace Michalak when he departs for France after the Currie Cup.

With Frans Steyn and Ruan Pienaar seemingly entrenched at inside centre and scrumhalf respectively, and a host of flyhalves they’ve trialled in the early stages of the Currie Cup not looking anything close to Super Rugby quality, a position that was filled by some very gifted players in the past, will stand vacant.

By Ryan Vrede