The injection of Sharks battering ram Willem Alberts at lock has provided Queensland Reds coach Ewen McKenzie even more to think about ahead of their Super Rugby qualifying final on Saturday night.
McKenzie was well aware the Sharks would come out swinging in the sudden-death clash at Suncorp Stadium but the Reds mentor found something unexpected when he went through their team list on Thursday.
Regular loose forward Alberts will play at lock for the first time this season – replacing an injured Piet-Steph du Toit – and combine with the formidable back-row of Ryan Kankowski, Marcell Coetzee and captain Keegan Daniel in a sign the Sharks will look to impose themselves from the outset.
Not that McKenzie had to be told.
“They have an interesting selection with Alberts in the second row,” McKenzie said on Thursday.
“They have got four genuine ball-carrying forwards out there that can make things happen so it’s an interesting game from a strategy point of view.
“They can get serious momentum, a lot of ball continuity. They are good at getting results out of that risk taking.
“They are the third highest try-scoring team – that says they can get value out of that.”
As expected, Louis Ludik slots in at fullback for the injured Springboks No.15 Pat Lambie.
In other backline changes, South African under-20 star Paul Jordaan slots in at outside centre while Tim Whitehead fills the inside centre gap created by Springbok star Frans Steyn’s finals ineligibility.
Springbok prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira returns to the starting line-up after recovering from a gastro bug to join inspirational hooker Bismarck du Plessis in the front row.
The dramatic reshuffle has not fazed the Durban-based Sharks who aim to go at least one better than last year’s first-round finals finish by downing the defending champions.
Asked if they could win from sixth, Daniel said: “Absolutely.
“We have to win or go home. We are going home anyway so we may as well play the Stormers (in South Africa next week).”
Without Lambie, the key for the 2007 Super Rugby runners-up will be their No.10 – France’s Frederic Michalak, who thrilled Suncorp Stadium nine years ago during his stunning 2003 World Cup scoring spree.
“He’s got 50-plus Test caps for France – that kind of experience you can’t buy,” Daniel said.
“We will be looking at him to steer the ship for us.”