Habana relishing Sharks duel

2015-02-05 05:00
Bryan Habana (Getty Images)

Toulon - European champions Toulon are set face the Sharks on Thursday for a gala game between two of rugby's current top clubs.

Toulon wing Bryan Habana, who played for the Lions, Bulls and Stormers in Super Rugby, is relishing the idea of facing a former rival.

"The side has changed a lot since I was there", the 31-year-old Springbok flyer said.

"They still have a group of players who know how to play rugby and to win games. But I feel their game is more structured now, based on the skills of players such as Bismarck du Plessis."

Club captain Du Plessis will be among a star-studded group alongside Springboks Marcell Coetzee, Ryan Kankowski or Patrick Lambie and Englishmen Mouritz Botha and Matt Stevens.

Toulon, on the other hand, will have to do without lock Bakkies Botha, Rudi Wulf and Maxime Mermoz.

Matt Giteau, who has just gone through surgery, is also absent while Alexandre Menini, Guilhem Guirado, Mathieu Bastareaud and Romain Taofifenua have all been called up for France against Scotland in the Six Nations opener.

"It is not an ideal situation for us", admitted Habana.

"We have a few players injured, a few others who got called up by their national squads... It's been a long season but we're all pros and we will be pro enough to play without thinking of the holidays."

This "Crunch of the Hemispheres" was sparked in November when Sharks manager John Smit threw down the gauntlet and tweeted a direct challenge to Toulon.

"Its easier to win Heineken (European) Cup than to contest a @SuperRugby title, @RCTofficiel how do u feel about a game against SA Conf champs 2014?", he said.

That prompted Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal to quip in a press conference later that day : "I've seen Jaws I, II and III and sharks don't scare me!"

The 2014 Super Rugby season however was a bit of a disappointment for the Sharks who finished third.

The Durban franchise, who kick off their season next week against the Cheetahs, will be looking to boost their confidence.

"It's a great honour and privilege to face a team like Toulon, who have won two European Cups in a row. It won't be an easy game and we will take it seriously", said Du Plessis.

"We want to get a good result but our aim is really to get a good start to the season. This game is a perfect opportunity to boost our confidence."

Sharks Director of Rugby Gary Gold said that Toulon would start favourites and that his side "probably isn't ready to face the double European champions".

"We're not 100% but it's a great challenge. This match is going to be the first really competitive game of the season and we're up against a team that has qualified for the European Cup quarter-finals already.

"They will be more prepared than us and more game ready than us, that's the challenge we face. But the reason why we wanted to be here is to put ourselves under this kind of pressure."

Read more on:    toulon  |  sharks  |  bryan habana  |  rugby

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