Dunedin awaits the Sharks on Friday -May Day

It is a curious place, Dunedin. The approach to the town from an airport half an hour outside the city shows the magnificent beauty of what quite literally was the backdrop for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Plus a lot of sheep.

How did they chase all those sheep away for the filming? A thought for another day.

And the townsfolk are eccentric and charming. They actually quite like ‘out-of-towners’, and they don’t play the fiddle quite as much as the locals do in ‘Deliverance”, that cult movie about invaders from civilisation getting their “come-uppance” from protective yokels.

Okay, the laugh is over. The fine folk of Dunedin are in fact quite charming, and the university students are a hoot. Part of initiation week is to take your furniture outside and burn it, and dance a jig, then attend a Highlanders home match the next day and down copious amounts of Speights Lager, the local brew. It tastse like the old Lion Ale, for those with god memories. it is kak.

This was part of the pre-match entertainment at a quaint old fortress called Carisbrook, known as the House of Pain, not only because visitors never won there but because it was the most inhospitable venue many had ever visited. Hot showers?

Thank heavens they pulled it down and build a new venue for the 2011 World Cup, the Forysth Barr Stadium which has a permanent roof, and never was this more needed than at a rugby venue that is only superceded by Invercargill (further down the frosty road of the South island) as being the closest to Antarctica.

But what has this got to do with the Sharks, who will be playing the Highlanders this morning at a cosy Stadium, where the Speights no longer freezes in mid tilt to your mouth?

Well it has a lot to do with the good old “laager” atmosphere that for so long was the last refuge of the struggling South African rugby team, and I am not talking about the sponsor’s product brought into the change room to assuage the pain of another defeat down south.

I am getting to the point that the Sharks team are fed up. We used to call it “gatvol”. Before the Sharks left Durban, their coach, Gary Gold, spoke about a ‘tsunami of negativity” that was drowning his team, and we really don’t want to again dredge up the suspensions, the injuries, the conspiracy theories about the Victorian-style punishments of ‘those’ colluding SANZAR officials …

But then came a Sunday newspaper story in New Zealand that mentioned the Sharks and Hansie Cronje in the same breath, and trust me I feel nothing but sadness and compassion when our former cricket captain is mentioned.

The writer intimated that the Sharks “tanked”, as he puts it, and the 50-points the Crusaders accumulated in Durban were in the best interests of nefarious businessmen in cahoots with corrupted Sharks.

The Sharks were indeed laughable that day, but so are suggestions that they cheated, as was the question posed by the reporter as to whether a squad of “thugs” be allowed across the New Zealand Border.

Jamie Joseph a citizen of Dunedin and a one-time All Black flank that happens to coach the Highlanders, must be a worried man. He knows South Africans. He knows the Afrikaner. He knows they will be polite only to a point and then, when their backs are against the wall and they no apologies left, they are going to “moer” you.

The Sharks have lost three matches in a row. They have been bullied, pilloried, teased, chastised by their Board, ridiculed and written off. A TV program in New Zealand this week called them “The Shocks”.

Well I know the Shocks, and I know when to put a ront or two on them. But if they lose this one, if they cannot combine their deep-seated fury, “their gatvolness” with the plethora of talent in their side and squeeze past a Highlanders team that is good but far from unbeatable, then I assure you they will not win another game on tour.

Back the Sharks for this one. This is their shot at redemption. They are “gatvol”.

Kick-off: 9.30am

Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (capt), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (capt), 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.

Substitutes: Ash Dixon, Brendon Edmonds, Pingi Tala’apitaga, Joe Latta, Elliot Dixon, Fumiaki Tanaka, Marty Banks, Jason Emery.

Sharks – 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 S’bura Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marco Wentzel (capt), 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Subs: Franco Marais, Dale Chadwick, Matt Stevens, Mouritz Botha, Etienne Oosthuizen, Conrad Hoffmann, Lionel Cronjé, Waylon Murray.

by Mike Greenaway

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