Muller in doubt for Waratahs clash
March 16, 2000
Yesterday's final Sharks training session had an observer coach Hugh Reece-Edwards most certainly could have done without.
Perched on a tackle bag grimly watching proceedings was Pieter Muller, the Sharks' most experienced player and a key man who is just about indispensable for such a crucial game.
The 30-year-old veteran pinched a nerve in his lower back during Wednesday's session and his participation against New South Wales is looking increasingly doubtful. "It does not feel good," Muller said. "I will have a final fitness test on Friday morning but I'm not optimistic."
Reece-Edwards was still contemplating a solution on Thursday should Muller be unavailable. He can move Joe Gillingham to inside centre and play Trevor Halstead on the outside, or he can go with an earlier plan and play Stefan Terblanche in the No 13 jersey, in partnership with Gillingham, and bring Stephen Brink into the team on the wing. Another option would be to play Clinton van Rensburg at inside centre with Gillingham outside him.
But no matter how you look at the combinations, Muller's absence will be a massive blow to a team already short of confidence. The Springbok centre was set to square up against Australian powerhouse Nathan Grey, whose strong running might have been neutralised by the defensive capabilities of Muller. His vast experience is also vital in a game that might as well count as a semifinal for the Sharks. If they lose, they can virtually kiss their semifinals aspirations goodbye.
"It's make or break," admits Reece-Edwards. "We basically have to win our eight remaining games to be certain of making the semis. We reckon 35 points will earn us a place in the next round. So far we have one point and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to realise that we need points, and we need them now."
It is desperation time in the Sharks camp, and with so much at stake, panic is a possibility. "That is the last thing we need and to make sure none of that creeps into our play, we have to ensure that we get our hands on the ball and then maintain possession. We have given the ball away unnecessarily so often on this tour. You cannot control the game if you do not have the ball."