Johannesburg - The joy of finally getting a win in the 2010 Super 14 has been quickly replaced by a mood of sobriety in a Sharks team that has reached the final week of a ridiculously tough and long tour feeling bruised and battered.
The Bulls and Stormers will be hoping that the Sharks can build some momentum after their win over the Highlanders by beating the Hurricanes in Wellington in their final tour match on Saturday. The Hurricanes have already lost three matches and are fast falling behind. Another defeat now would knock them right out of the Super 14 race.
But although the Hurricanes have had to undertake the long flight home from Africa and may be suffering from travel fatigue, the Sharks have tour fatigue – plus an injury list that saw only 16 members of the 26-man tour party take part in training at the start of the week.
“You could say we are pretty ‘banged up’ at the moment,” was the way Sharks coach John Plumtree put the situation to reporters when he was contacted in New Zealand.
As a former coach of Wellington Lions, Plumtree loves doing well against the Hurricanes franchise, but the chances of him doing so this time will depend on how several players recover from injury.
Experienced lock Johann Muller is definitely out of the game. He broke a finger against the Highlanders and was operated on immediately after the game. It is unclear how long he will be out for. With Gerhard Mostert having been ruled out for the season before it had hardly started, that does not leave the Sharks with much option at lock, with Alistair Hargreaves, not selected as a member of the initial tour party, expected to slot in alongside Steven Sykes in Wellington.
Flanker Keegan Daniel is also almost certainly out of the match, with Plumtree listing him as “unlikely” to play due to a shoulder injury. He is a bit more optimistic about Jean Deysel, however, with the coach hopeful that Deysel will recover in time from a leg injury to take the field.
Prop Jannie du Plessis had been carrying a hamstring strain but Plumtree is also optimistic he will be ready in time for the last match, but the situation with flyhalf Andy Goode is a lot less certain. Goode, who will be playing his last match for the Sharks if he does take the field, has a sore hamstring.
“We can hopefully patch up enough guys to take the field on Saturday, but it is week five of a long tour and the guys are battered and bruised,” said Plumtree.
It has been a tough tour for the Sharks. The opening match against the Crusaders in Christchurch seems ages ago, and now the Sharks are back across the Tasman, not far as the crow flies from where it all started, in Wellington after a tour which has taken in Crusaders, Waratahs, Brumbies, Highlanders and now the Hurricanes.
And the New Zealanders think they have it tough if they have to play three games in South Africa...