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Avoiding Shark bite would be Reds' legacy dream come true

Date

Paul Cully

On form ... Marcell Coetzee has been influential for the Sharks this season.

On form ... Marcell Coetzee has been influential for the Sharks this season. Photo: Getty Images

There is a stubborn theory subscribed to by some in two-thirds of the SANZAR territories that the Reds got lucky last year.

Topping the Australian conference provided a smooth pathway to the final, the critics say, where they met a Crusaders side that had run out of emotional energy following a season of packing suitcases and worrying about families at home.

You can discount such talk if the Reds keep the title in the cabinet in this year. If last year's achievements secured a title, this year's would secure a legacy: a place among the elite sides in Super Rugby history. This will have to be done the hard way. The Sharks side they face tomorrow night is the pick of the South African bunch.

It is a measure of their quality that they can go to Suncorp Stadium, a fortress, and regard a victory as a possibility rather than just as an aspiration. And it is a sign of Queensland's concern that they have been muttering about the ''process'' in relation to Quade Cooper's one-week ban, with an appeal apparently having been seriously considered before ultimately being ruled out last night.

Someone at the Reds must have a sense of humour. They finished sixth and get to host a home final, while two sides that finished above them must jump on a plane. Two weeks ago they conceded eight penalties in their own 22 and avoided a yellow card. They have not had the rough end of the SANZAR stick.

Still, if there is any anxiety in Brisbane it at least acknowledges the size of the challenge ahead. Work through the statistics of these two teams and there are more similarities than differences. Their use of pass-run-kick options is almost identical.

Class fills the Sharks' ranks. JP Pietersen is in rare form and while ''Beast'' Mtawarira's open-field surges are less frequent these days, his set-piece work has improved. Pat Lambie is a loss but it is Freddie Michalak who has been pulling the strings from No.10 during their best games. But pay particular attention to the back row. History tells us of the importance of the men who don the numbers 6 to 8. Scour through previous Super champions and you will not find anything but excellence among the loose forwards. At this level they are more important than a big scrum.

The familiar faces are all there for John Plumtree's side. Ryan Kankowski, Keegan Daniel and Willem Alberts. But it is South Africa's find of the season, Marcell Coetzee, who has been their dynamo. The surplus of talent gives them some tactical flexibility, too. Alberts has played Test rugby in the second row, allowing all four to be involved at the same time.

Coetzee has more reason than most to be motivated on Australian soil. He is best remembered for starring in Dean Mumm's finest YouTube moment than his own abilities. Coetzee was the unfortunate soul upended by an unlikely Mumm fend earlier in the season. It was a deeply unflattering portrait.

Against the Bulls two weeks ago, Coetzee made 23 tackles, 16 runs and six offloads. That's a better representation of his quality.

Those sort of numbers lay behind Heyneke Meyer's decision to hand him the openside role for the Springboks against England for their three-game series, at the expense of Heinrich Brussow.

Lovers of the philosophies behind the game will have noted the clash with the Australian model. For all Coetzee's qualities, he is no jackal in the mode of Liam Gill. Carrying is his speciality, rather than pilfering, and the same can be said for Daniel. The Sharks rank 12th for the number of ruck and maul steals this year. Brussow himself caused them all manner of grief in the first half of the Sharks v Cheetahs game last week and the fixture swung on his injury-enforced departure. During the third Springboks v England Test, the visitors had the better performers at the breakdown. There is an opportunity there for the brilliant Gill and the Reds in this clash of styles.

The Faingaa brothers, more than capable of causing havoc at the breakdown, also have roles to play. Scott Higginbotham, who cannot seem to shake criticisms over his workrate, must also confront Alberts at the gainline. There are some tasty subplots.

The scriptwriters demand that the Reds go into the semi-finals. A return to New Zealand, and to Waikato, awaits Quade Cooper if the Reds win and the Crusaders beat the Bulls. But there are warning signs all over this Sharks game.

Twitter -@whiskeycully

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Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
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Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
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Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
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Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
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Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
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Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG 26 vs AUS 17 Report Stats
WAL 12 vs RSA 6 Report Stats
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