Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The Sharks have got past the first part of their mission, which was to arrive in Australasia in enough time to get to Nelson, the venue for Saturday's Super Rugby Qualifier against the Crusaders.
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Last week's conquerors of the Bulls were concerned their flight to Sydney might get diverted to Brisbane because of the volcanic ash which has travelled 9000 kilometres to hang over Australia from Chile, but that was not the case. The Sharks have safely passed through Sydney and expect to be in Nelson on Thursday after a stop-over in Wellington, 25 minutes flying time away.
Normally renowned as a seaside resort that coach John Plumtree describes as "not unlike Umhlanga Rocks" on the Kwa-Zulu Natal coastline just north of Durban, at least in the summer time, Nelson is expected to be cold, wet and windy when the Sharks arrive there. Wet weather has been forecast for the game, which is nothing new as most of the recent games in New Zealand have been played in the wet.
After the Sharks beat the Bulls with an expansive approach at Loftus last weekend, with wings Lwazi Mvovo and JP Pietersen and their attacking fullback Patrick Lambie playing such a big part in it, you would expect the Sharks to be a bit uncomfortable about tackling the Crusaders in the wet. However Plumtree is far from despondent, and actually feels heartened by the weather forecast.
"Only the rich and famous can afford property in Nelson, which is essentially a Kiwi equivalent of Umhlanga Rocks. It is a really nice seaside town in the summer time, but it would have been much better if we were playing them there in February or March, when it is much more pleasant," said Plumtree.
"Having said that, I am a lot happier at this stage of the season that we have the game for the inclement conditions we are expecting in New Zealand. Our forward pack is suited to competing in the wet and freezing mud, while at the back flyhalf Frederic Michalak knows those conditions well from France and knows how to control the game in that situation.
"At fullback Patrick Lambie has an excellent kicking game," he added.
However the Sharks will be sorry to be going into a wet weather game without Steven Sykes, their burly driving lock who has been left behind in Durban because he failed to pass a fitness test on his injured ankle before departure. Plumtree acknowledged that Sykes would be "perfect for the conditions" although he added that the lock pairing of Gerhard Mostert and Alistair Hargreaves had been excellent in Pretoria.
"The guys are really excited because it is finals time and this team really enjoys playing finals rugby. Mind you so do the Crusaders, we are well aware of that," said the coach.