Managing long distance travel is no longer a mystery to the Sharks but the composition of their backline for Saturday's Super Rugby final provides an element of intrigue before John Plumtree reveals his line-up to face the Chiefs in Hamilton.
French first five-eighth Frederic Michalak is assured of presenting the jerseys to his teammates - a gesture to mark his final appearance for the Durban-based franchise - but the number he gives himself remains uncertain.
With Springboks utility Patrick Lambie apparently back up to speed after six weeks out with an ankle injury, Plumtree faces the dilemma of where to run one of South African rugby's future stars.
Lambie, who suffered an ankle injury playing against the Cheetahs on July 14, is obviously lacking match practice ahead of the title decider at Waikato Stadium but he would not have boarded the flight to Sydney if Plumtree did not envisage a key role for him.
The New Zealander primarily sees Lambie as a pivot through he has also played at fullback this season and in his absence former French international Michalak proved a more than adequate playmaker.
Michalak, who last terrorised a New Zealand team in the 2007 World Cup quarterfinal in Cardiff, steered the Sharks to their fourth Super Rugby final with important contributions against the Reds and Stormers but could revert to his alternative position as halfback to accommodate Lambie.
Charl McLeod is the incumbent No.9 but is not entirely convincing behind a Sharks pack that is battle-hardened, based on an all-Springok front row and back to full-strength.
Michalak could also be relegated to the bench as Lambie is also an accomplished goal kicker or the versatile 21-year-old could slot in a back three which is already operating smoothly.
Plumtree should also have promising midfield back Paul Jordaan available subject to a fitness test on his hamstring, it would be a timely recovery given Tim Whitehead is in Durban nursing a broken hand and Francois Steyn's return from France was not soon enough to be eligible to contest the finals series.
Whitehead did an admirable job containing Sonny Bill Williams when the sides last met in April, a round nine clash won by the Chiefs 18-12 thanks to a late try by replacement halfback Augustine Pulu.
Former Springbok Meyer Bosman could be handed the challenging task of curbing Williams's impact but Plumtree was coy about his line-up before the squad stretched their legs yesterday with a light run at their usual Sydney base at Coogee.
"I'll have to see where they fit in," Plumtree said.
The team should be named tomorrow either before or after they embark on the next leg of their journey to Hamilton via Auckland.
Plumtree, meanwhile, said the air miles they had racked up since sneaking into the post-season by claiming the final wildcard spot had an upside to counter the inevitable jetlag.
The Sharks started continued their title quest in Brisbane, return to the Republic to topple the well-rested and top-seeded Stormers last weekend and then packed up for another arduous journey to New Zealand.
He felt the tyranny of distance, while not ideal, had galvanised the squad.
"Spending a lot of time together helps develop that team spirit further," he said.
"They're really enjoying themselves at the moment despite all the travelling they're doing."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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