Sharks arrive late in Brisbane
Gold Coast - The Sharks have arrived in Australia for the Super Rugby playoffs a lot later than planned and in a city they didn't expect to be playing in until some surprising results last weekend.
The Durban-based team will play the defending champion Reds on Saturday in the first round of the playoffs in Brisbane. That will give the Sharks nearly five days to overcome their marathon trip from South Africa - a two-hour delay in Johannesburg and a missed connection from Sydney forced the team to split in two for flights north on Monday.
Coach John Plumtree had expected the Sharks to be playing in Canberra against the Brumbies, who had a five-point lead over the Reds for first place in the Australian Conference going into the final round.
But the Reds' bonus-point victory over the Waratahs coupled with the Brumbies' surprise 30-16 loss to the Blues left the Reds in first place and one of four teams contesting the first round.
The Sharks provided some drama of their own in the final round, coming back from 15-6 down at half-time to beat the Cheetahs 34-15 and secure the bonus-point win they needed to take sixth spot.
"We thought we might be going to Canberra but it all unfolded in the last weekend - it was amazing," Plumtree said.
The lengthy trip meant the Sharks were unaware until they arrived in Australia that Reds playmaker Quade Cooper had received a one-match ban for a dangerous tackle on Waratahs centre Berrick Barnes.
The Reds said on Wednesday they were "seriously considering" appealing.
"I didn't even know about it because we were in the air straight after the game," Plumtree said. "It is big news for them. But they have faith in their back-up (Ben Lucas) so I am sure it won't make too much of a difference. We have just been focusing on getting over our trip and on what we are going to do."
The Sharks have won six of their past seven matches - all in South Africa - while the Reds, with Cooper back in the line-up after a near eight-month layoff due to knee surgery, have won six in a row.
The Reds lost 27-22 loss to the Sharks in the fourth round at Durban after leading 17-0; a defeat that started an early-season slump.
The Sharks have their own personnel concerns.
Flyhalf Patrick Lambie aggravated an ankle injury during the Sharks' win over the Cheetahs, while Frans Steyn is ineligible for the playoffs because he was signed by the Sharks after the April 1 transfer deadline.
Lock Pieter-Steph du Toit also has an ankle injury and was omitted from the 24-man squad named by the Sharks on Sunday. Lock Steven Sykes and prop Tendai Mtawarira have both been passed fit after missing the match against the Cheetahs.
Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis, affected by a knee injury, is expected to start after coming off the bench against the Cheetahs.