Sharks to swim in northern waters

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The Independent Online

Not quite the Lewis-Tyson that world rugby had been hoping for but a heavyweight showdown nevertheless. The Natal Sharks and Harlequins at the Stoop on 5 February next year is not ACT Brumbies versus Leicester, but it is a coup for the organisers, who will make the official match announcement tomorrow.

The chief executive of the Sharks, Brian van Zyl, flew into London on Friday to "dot the i's and cross the t's" with his Quins counterpart, Mark Evans, and expressed his delight at being part of the first competitive club match between sides from the northern and southern hemispheres.

South Africa's Sharks, arguably the best marketed provincial side in world rugby, have a strong support base in London and had this in mind when they accepted the invitation to play Quins. "It's significant for both teams," Van Zyl said. "We will definitely be playing the fixture for the next two years, the first in London and the second in Durban. Hopefully, it will be an annual affair. It will serve as a fine pre-season practice match for our Super 12 squad," he added.

With five players in yesterday's Springbok starting line-up at Twickenham, the Sharks are near the top of the southern hemisphere provincial pile; this year they finished runners-up to Australia's Brumbies in the Super 12 and also to Western Province in the Currie Cup. Quins themselves are sixth in the Zurich Premiership table.

Yet just how the Sharks will fancy stripping to their shorts at The Stoop in February, and vice-versa when Quins play in the heat of a Durban summer 12 months later, will ultimately decide whether this cross-hemisphere fixture is taken seriously or as a gentle money-spinning friendly.