Late test to decide Nathan Sharpe's fitness
The Western Force will give captain Nathan Sharpe until match-day to prove his fitness for the final game of his storied Super rugby career.
The Wallabies locking legend arrived in Christchurch yesterday afternoon and rated himself a 50-50 chance of overcoming a back injury in time to play the Crusaders at AMI Stadium on Saturday night.
"We'll give him right up till Saturday morning," Force coach Phil Blake said. "He's upright, on Saturday he wasn't, so we'll give him as long as possible."
Sharpe's back locked up on match-day last week, forcing him to miss the Force's 32-9 loss to the Blues at Auckland's Eden Park.
"We'll just have to see how it settles down," said Sharpe, a 105-test veteran who is determined to do all he can to front up to Crusaders test locks Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano. "I definitely want to be involved in my last game. Obviously, the Force has been a fantastic part of my career, and I'd like to play the last bit of the season."
With the Force out of contention for the Super 15 playoffs, the Christchurch game was slated to be the last time Sharpe laced on his boots in a Super rugby career stretching back 15 seasons to 1998.
But the 2m tall 34-year-old has succumbed to some subtle arm-twisting from the Wallabies' Canterbury-born coach Robbie Deans to answer a SOS call with injuries sidelining test locks James Horwill and Daniel Vickerman.
"I was set to retire after this game, but Robbie asked me to stay around for the Rugby Championship and the Bledisloe [Cup series], so I'll finish up after the last Bledisloe in Brisbane [on October 20]. It's exciting, it obviously changes the plans, but that's not a big issue, it's only another three months or so."
Wagga Wagga-born Sharpe will depart Super rugby as the competition's most capped player. The Crusaders' match will be his 162nd since his debut for the Reds against the Hurricanes in 1998.
Sharpe, an Australian Rules devotee in his youth, took up rugby union after moving to the Gold Coast's Southport High School and graduated to Australia's under-19 and under-21 teams. He made his test debut against France in 2002, after winning the Australian Super 12 medal of excellence that season.
The durable second rower played 53 consecutive tests before an ankle injury interrupted his sequence and he appeared in three World Cup campaigns. Sharpe brought up his 100th test at last year's World Cup and is now the third-most capped Wallaby behind George Gregan (139) and George Smith (110).
Sharpe has been as much a signature player for the Force as Richie McCaw and Dan Carter have been at the Crusaders after joining the Western Australian franchise as a foundation player in 2006.
A "Farewell Sharpie" banner greeted him as he led the Force out for his final home game against the Brumbies last month, accompanied by his two young sons.
Sharpe had led the Force for six seasons until Wallabies flanker David Pocock took over this year.
But he won back the skipper's job for the final rounds when Pocock was injured and Sharpe's teammates are keen to see him lead them out for the last time on Saturday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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