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Wed Apr 23 16:30:59 SAST 2014

Heavy travel schedule a 'motivation' for Sharks

CRAIG RAY and SBU MJIKELISO | 26 July, 2012 06:280 Comments
Sharks Training Session and Press Conference - 2012 Super Rugby
JP Pietersen in action during a Sharks training session at Mr Price Kings Park on July 24, 2012 in Durban
Image by: Gallo Images / Getty Images

STORMERS captain Jean de Villiers believes that the Sharks' recent heavy travel schedule would not be a negative but rather a motivating factor in Saturday's Super 15 semifinal at Newlands.

The Sharks' itinerary potentially includes another flight back to New Zealand.

They flew to Brisbane last week, beat the Reds in a play-off match and returned to South Africa on Sunday.

Should they beat the Stormers they will face a flight back to either Christchurch or Hamilton in New Zealand to face the Crusaders or Chiefs in the final.

"You could say that the travelling they have had to do is a negative, or you could look at it another way," De Villiers said.

"If they should go on to win against us on Saturday and then travel to New Zealand to beat either the Chiefs or Crusaders in the final, that would be the best Super rugby performance in history.

"So that is a huge motivation for them and the unfortunate thing for the Stormers is that the Sharks are capable of achieving that goal."

Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has made two changes to the starting line-up from the team's last encounter against the Rebels nearly two weeks ago, bringing in tighthead Brok Harris for Frans Malherbe and lock Eben Etzebeth for De Kock Steenkamp.

Etzebeth has overcome an ankle injury and Harris is the preferred choice because of his experience in big matches, having played in two semifinals and a final in the last two seasons.

Stalwart No8 Duane Vermeulen has not fully overcome his knee injury and was unable to force his way into the squad. Coetzee said that he would only pick players who were 100% fit.

The Stormers lost last year's home semifinal against the Crusaders, although they beat the Waratahs at the same stage in 2010.

But this is the first time they could host the final should they beat the Sharks, as they topped the overall pool standings.

Meanwhile, Sharks coach John Plumtree has resisted the temptation to tinker with his squad, and kept JP Pietersen at right wing after outside centre Paul Jordaan failed to recover in time for the semifinal against the Stormers.

Jordaan aggravated a recurring hamstring injury during the 30-17 win over the Reds in Brisbane last week-end, and was forced off the field a mere five minutes into the second half. That left the coach with the option to either move Pietersen to outside centre from the wing, or bring Meyer Bosman in at inside centre and push Tim Whitehead to the outside. Plumtree chose the latter.

Whitehead and Pietersen played together in midfield seven times at the beginning of the season but Pietersen's recent excellent form at wing made the decision to play him out of position much harder for the coach.

"JP is a big player for us, he needs to have a big game against the Stormers on the weekend," Plumtree said.

"I'm sure he was happy to be back at wing, but, at the end of the day, earlier in the season we were in a situation where we did not really have a lot of choice. I think he would rather play wing but he actually enjoyed his time at centre.

"He is going really good and very confident at the moment. He has taken a senior role in the team with all of his actions and is enjoying his rugby."

Willem Alberts has been chosen at lock ahead of Steven Sykes, who is on the bench. Fullback Pat Lambie has also failed to make the squad for the crucial encounter.

Plumtree has drafted Riaan Viljoen, who last featured against the Cheetahs in May, as backline utility cover on the bench.

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