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    Sharks to target 'Saders scrum

    2013-04-02 13:04
    Beast Mtawarira (Gallo Images)

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - The Sharks, currently South Africa’s likeliest hope for a strong Super Rugby playoffs position, may succeed on Friday (19:10, Kings Park) in one area where the Stormers failed to cash in on Crusaders disruption a few days previously.

    The plucky, currently under-staffed men from Canterbury, who earned what coach Todd Blackadder branded a “great outcome” in winning 19-14 in their first tour match on Saturday, experienced further big-name upheaval even before the first scrum at Newlands, with tighthead strongman Owen Franks succumbing to a rib cartilage injury.

    It will reportedly rule him out of the attractive clash with the Sharks, who come off a bye and stand atop the South African conference, three points clear of the surprise package Cheetahs who have also played one game more.

    Franks’ misfortune meant that regular loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett had to switch to duty on his “wrong” side of the set-piece, with inexperienced substitute Joe Moody entering the fray early in the second quarter in the No 1 spot.

    Yet the Stormers – themselves, it must be said, missing suspended first-choice loosehead Steven Kitshoff on the night – could not gain any great traction at scrum-time, with acting No 1 Pat Cilliers (ironically more at home himself on the tighthead side) unable to genuinely trouble Crockett in his re-arranged position.

    Moody, in his first season at Super Rugby level, also more than held his own against 22-year-old Stormers tighthead Frans Malherbe, which may only fuel further those who suspect the Capetonians boast future promise rather than much-needed immediate steel in their front row.

    Blackadder was quick to enthuse, when probed by Sport24 after Saturday’s tight and uncompromising contest, about his pack’s resilience in the scrums despite the huge Franks setback.

    “They were terrific ... Joe Moody is a great prop; one strong, helluva boy. Crocky moved into tighthead with not a lot of experience at this level, although he did go in there against the Bulls too.

    “He did a fine job: Wyatt Crockett is a tough man anyway, and he just showed his versatility.”

    It is probably just as well that the Crusaders’ existing prop staff are showing spirit in adversity, because the franchise gave up Franks’ just as highly-rated brother Ben to the Hurricanes before the start of 2013.

    They have the option on Friday of giving Moody a start at loosehead, with Crockett more formally deployed at No 3, or sticking with the latter in his best position and introducing 21-year-old Nepo Laulala at tighthead.

    The raw Laulala is a brother of Casey Laulala, the former Crusaders and two-cap All Black midfielder who now plies his trade in the northern hemisphere with Munster.

    Whichever “emergency” front row combination they opt for, the Crusaders are sure to know that it will be tested more vigorously by the Sharks, the South African side with the best scrummaging reputation at present.

    If the mood suitably grabs him, Beast Mtawarira is capable of giving either the inexperienced Laulala or out-of-position Crockett a real working-over, and he is likely to be partnered at prop by gnarly fellow-Springbok tighthead Jannie du Plessis.

    Promisingly for the Sharks, whenever the veteran Du Plessis has been “rotated” to preserve his fitness and lustre, Klerksdorp-born Wiehahn Herbst has deputised most capably, to the point that he may even be second-best South African tighthead in pure scrumming terms right now.

    The particularly ecstatic way in which the Crusaders celebrated their Newlands win summed up just how hard-fought the scrap had been, and also how commendably they had done to winkle it out so deservedly despite some of their most iconic names missing.

    “We take great confidence out of (Newlands),” captain George Whitelock said. “This was our first game on tour and a lot of young guys got plenty of game-time in such a high-pressure venue.

    “There’s a short turnaround now (to face) a pretty impressive Sharks team so we look forward to Friday night.”

    Expect the home side to have made some useful mental notes out of the Stormers’ failings ... including that glaring inability to capitalise on the Crusaders’ mini-crisis at prop.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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