‘Reds still dangerous without Cooper’
One of the big questionmarks at the start of the season over the chances of the Reds repeating last year’s feat of winning the Super Rugby tournament, revolved around the absence of Quade Cooper, the Wallaby flyhalf who was seriously injured in the World Cup play-off match against Wales in Auckland last October.
Cooper will be out for a couple of months still as he recovers from ligament surgery, and as the Reds haven’t been quite as potent as an attacking force as they were last season, they will be hoping the mercurial pivot will make his way back to the playing field sooner rather than later.
However if Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford is pleased to be playing the Reds without Cooper, he is not showing it.
Instead of talking about what the Reds miss without Cooper, Bashford preferred to focus on what his replacement, Mike Harris, brings to the mix.
“We know Quade is unique as a player, but Harris brings different threats. He’s a big boy, he kicks the ball well and he’s evasive. He also takes the ball to the line,” said Bashford as he looked ahead to Saturday’s match in Durban.
“The Reds may be without Quade but they are still full of threats throughout the backline. They have a backline scattered with X-factor players and it is going to be a really good challenge (for our defence) this weekend.”
The Sharks kept the opposition from scoring in both their opening two game against the Bulls and the Stormers, but were a bit lax on defence in the second half against the Lions, when the visitors were able to cross the line twice.
So while progress has been made on the Sharks’ defensive work, the coaches will know there is still work to be done, and concentration and focus for a full 80 minutes will probably be a talking point before Saturday’s game.
The Reds struggled last time out against the Rebels and this suggests the Sharks start with a definite chance on their home ground against a team they have not lost to in Durban since 2002.
But Bashford warned that the Reds, although making a sluggish start to the season, retain the aura that distinguishes the champion teams from the rest.
“They would probably not be happy with way they are tracking, but a sign of a championship team is when it’s not going so well, they still manage to win,” he said.
“They came from behind against the Waratahs to win in the last minute, so there definitely seems to be belief in this group that no matter how they’re going, they’ll somehow find a way to win. They haven’t won here since 2002 so that will be their challenge to break the drought.”
Bashford, whose field of speciality is the backs, said he was happy with the way his relatively new combination was starting to gel.
“Each week there has been some progress. We have some new combinations, and Tim Whitehead was injured for the Stormers game so Meyer Bosman had to slot in, and he did really well. Then Tim came back this weekend and again impressed with the way he related with JP Pietersen.
"The nice thing is that we have depth this year and players are taking their opportunities to put up their hands when they present themselves.”
The good news for the Sharks is that there aren’t any major injury concerns going into the game. Skipper Keegan Daniel went over on an ankle earlier in the week but head coach John Plumtree says he should be fine to play, and ditto for Bismarck du Plessis, who sustained a knee injury in the Lions game.
“Bismarck should make the weekend. He trained lightly this morning,” said Plumtree.
The Sharks will be welcoming back injured players Jean Deysel and Conrad Hoffmann through the Sharks XV in the Vodacom Cup this weekend so things are looking up for them on that front.