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Sydney sojourn a boost for Sharks

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The return of Botha will likewise add mongrel to a Sharks pack that has been listless in recent outings

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THE Sharks arrived in Sydney yesterday boosted by the return of two influential forwards in busy hooker Akker van der Merwe and robust lock Ruan Botha.

Van der Merwe’s three-match suspension for a fist-fight with Bulls hooker Schalk Brits ended at the weekend and his return to the Sharks’ front row for Saturday’s match against the Waratahs will add experience and venom to the forward effort.

The return of Botha will likewise add mongrel to a Sharks pack that has been listless in recent outings. Botha is the Sharks’ biggest and most fearsome lock and he has been conspicuous by his absence because of an ankle injury.

There are further positive developments for the pack in that two vital players in Tyler Paul and Jean-Luc du Preez have made their comebacks from injury off the bench and are now primed to start. Paul’s naked aggression and Du Preez’s physicality have been missed.

The Sharks will have been pleased to escape the criticism of them in Durban for the anonymity of Sydney where they can set about rebuilding their season with few distractions.

“We go on a three-week tour now and sometimes that can be really good for a team in terms of building camaraderie,” Du Preez said on Friday after his team had lost 21-14 to the Reds at Jonsson Kings Park. “We obviously need a massive game on Saturday against the Waratahs but I certainly believe we can turn it around. I know we have what it takes.”

The coach acknowledged that the pressure is mounting.

“Of course there is pressure. When you lose four games at home it’s obviously not great, especially for the fans, but for all of us. It is so disappointing,” Du Preez said. “But there is a positive feeling in the change room and it’s a big step up from last week.”

Many a Sharks fan would disagree that the performance was an improvement on the loss to the Jaguares the week before, but they would agree with the coach that the players showed greater commitment.

“I thought the boys really put the effort in you can’t fault them for effort today (against the Reds),” Du Preez said.

“We created a lot of opportunities, and I think we just couldn’t execute them. In those first 20 minutes we gave away two really soft tries and I think that came back to bite us in the end.”

Regarding fixing the crippling handling errors, Du Preez said: “Patience … that is the answer. With ball in hand we have to be more patient.”