Sharks Boks to play off the bench
The Sharks have a long history of announcing different teams from the one that runs onto the field, and the Blue Bulls might well be forgiven if they fear that John Plumtree is continuing with a ruse started by Ian McIntosh in that famous Currie Cup final of 1990 at Loftus Versfeld.
The current Sharks coach has certainly given his team’s opponents in Saturday’s Absa Currie Cup semifinal at Mr Price Kings Park plenty to think about, with the various options showcased by the selection for this week both advertising the depth that Plumtree has developed during the regular season as well as probably what he has learned from previous mistakes.
Plumtree was one of the first to admit that maybe he erred when he pushed all the returning World Cup Boks back into action in last year’s play-offs, and starting with last week’s final league match against Griquas, he has shown a willingness to ease the top players back where others have rushed.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, given who they are playing against, is the absence of Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira from the front row, with Dale Chadwick being entrusted with the responsibility of starting out in the No 1 jersey.
As much as it is a massive compliment to Chadwick and recognition of the strides he has made, it also means the Sharks will be in a position to match the excellent use of substitutes that the Bulls have become famous for and which has contributed a lot to their success over the past decade.
Not that the Beast is the only top Bok playing off the bench this week. Willem Alberts is too, with Plumtree looking to let the big man reassume the impact role that he fulfilled so well for Peter de Villiers’s Springboks at stages of 2010 and 2011.
Of course the selection there is complicated by the presence of so many loose-forwards, with Jean Deysel having done well enough at blindside flank during the league stage of the season to justify him retaining the No 7 jersey for what will be his landmark 50th Currie Cup cap.
The one Bok who does return to the starting team this week is Marcel Coetzee, with the choice at openside flank being eased for Plumtree by the unavailability through injury of veteran Jacques Botes.
Coetzee also didn’t get that much game-time for the Boks in the latter stages of the Castle Rugby Championships, and with a point to prove ahead of the end-of-year tour, he is probably itching to start.
The other player who has been part of the Bok group in recent times who will play off the bench on Saturday is hooker Craig Burden, with Kyle Cooper starting at No 2 ahead of him.
Odwa Ndungane is of course injured otherwise Plumtree has been able to select the same backline that played so well around Patrick Lambie against Griquas, with JP Pietersen continuing to grow in confidence as he continues his comeback from injury on the right wing.
Of all the Currie Cup coaches, Plumtree with this selection has managed to deliver on the spirit of what now has become essentially a development tournament, with the players who have got them to the semifinals being trusted to continue now that the knock-outs have arrived.
So kudos to Plumtree, though of course there is just the possibility that the team that runs onto the field on Saturday will look quite different from that published. You just never know with the Sharks, and it will be recalled that for the Super Rugby semifinal against the Stormers two months ago they fielded a different back three from that which had been announced.
THE SHARKS: Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Tim Whitehead, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Keegan Daniel (captain), Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee, Anton Bresler, Jandre Marais, Wiehahn Herbst, Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: Craig Burden, Tendai Mtawarira, Wiehahn Herbst, Steven Sykes/Peet Marais, Willem Alberts, Charl McLeod, Meyer Bosman.