Tragedy tinges 9th round in Super14

The Brumbies will attempt to pick up the pieces of a season irrevocably damaged by tragedy in a Super 14 rugby match against South Africa’s Stormers on Saturday.

The Brumbies have dedicated the match in Canberra to the memory of teammate Shawn Mackay, who died in a Durban hospital Monday of complications from injuries suffered in a March 30 traffic accident.

Coach Andy Friend, who had been particularly close to Mackay, said players and team officials were still deeply distressed but would endeavor to lift themselves for Saturday’s ninth-round match against the Stormers.

“I’m like everyone else, devastated by the news,” Friend said.

“But life goes on and we’ve got to make sure we’re doing what Macca would have wanted us to do which is to play on Saturday and beat the Stormers.”

A moment’s silence will be observed in Mackay’s honor at most Super 14 matches this weekend, and most teams have invited their players to wear black armbands.

Captain Stephen Hoiles, who had known Mackay since primary school and played with him at both first XV and club level before being reunited at the Brumbies, said the Brumbies would attempt to make Saturday’s match a celebration of Mackay’s life.

“This group’s got an enormous amount of character, and my gut feeling is that after speaking to a few guys, that everyone really wants to play,” Hoiles said.

“That’s what we do, we play football.”

“And I think just the fact that it’s something to focus on…and to put in a good performance for the whole community that’s been affected from this I think will be a pretty special thing.”

The Brumbies are in eighth place on the Super 14 table with 18 points, five points outside the top four but with the chance to close that gap with a single bonus-point win.

The Stormers are 11th, four points behind the Brumbies, and among a group of teams whose playoff chances are fast fading.

The third-placed Waratahs play the fourth-placed Bulls on Saturday in a match of considerable importance to their and to other teams’ playoff ambitions.

The Waratahs have 27 points, the Bulls 23 and a loss for either team would bring their closest chasers, the Crusaders (22 points) and Hurricanes (20), into top-four contention.

The Sydney-based Waratahs have won their most recent matches by margins of six, five and four points but captain Phil Waugh continued to defend his team’s pragmatic style

“You’ve just got to win the games,” he said. “At the end of a competition, you think we could have picked up bonus points here and there. But if you go into a game, you go in to win it.”

Waugh said the Waratahs had also been affected by the death of Mackay.

“Shawn’s loss is going to effect everyone in Australian rugby in some way and this weekend I think for all Australian teams is going to be a tough one,” he said.

“But it’s about channeling that emotion and putting it into a good performance on the rugby field.”

The third-placed Chiefs have a bye in round nine, while the first-placed Sharks meet the last-placed Cheetahs at Bloemfontein in their last away match of the season.

The assignment seems an easy one for the Sharks, who lead the tournament by three points after last week’s home win over the Hurricanes.

Sharks coach John Plumtree said though his team and the Cheetahs were separated by 14 places on the championship table, Saturday’s match would see no change in the Sharks’ winning style.

“Whenever we play, opposition coaches talk about our physicality,” Plumtree said.

“I guess there is a hard edge to us, we back ourselves physically, we like to wear the opposition down and we’ve won a lot of games in the second half.”

The Crusaders are unable to improve their fifth placing because of a ninth-round bye while the Hurricanes, who meet the Western Force in Perth, will be without key playmaker Pir

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