Sharks heading to full strength
Ryan Kankowski has been told to spend an extra week in the gym to get himself properly conditioned and Springbok flankers Marcell Coetzee and Willem Alberts are both out injured otherwise the Sharks team selected for Friday night’s final pre-season warm-up game is pretty close to full-strength.
Coetzee has a bruised hip and Alberts is still troubled by a recurring neck/shoulder injury and both of them look set to miss the opening round of Super Rugby. The Sharks play the Pumas in Nelspruit in their final hit-out before the Super Rugby season gets under way with a match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein the following week, and coach John Plumtree is clearly eager to see his first choice combinations settle.
Frans Steyn again leads the side after doing well in his first match as team leader against the Leopards in Maritzburg last Friday, and he could get an extended run as captain due to the ligament injury that has ruled Keegan Daniel out for up to six weeks. Apart from Daniel, Coetzee and Kankowski, the other player not considered is centre Tim Whitehead, who broke his arm against the Leopards.
Plumtree will obviously be holding thumbs that there are no further injury mishaps as his team heads into a tough opening period which includes a bruising derby against the Stormers to follow the one against the Cheetahs.
Springboks JP Pietersen, Jannie du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira all return to the starting team for this game, while Paul Jordaan will partner Steyn in the midfield. Anton Bresler is back as Franco van der Merwe’s second row partner after Pieter-Steph du Toit was tried there last week. Du Toit, who can also play flank, will play off the bench in Nelspruit.
Lubabalo Mtembu will play No 8 in the absence of Daniel, Alberts and Kankowski and this will be his opportunity to show that he can provide good back-up at Super Rugby level. Cobus Reinach at this stage seems to have the edge over Charl McLeod in the competition for the No 9 jersey after his strong performances in the Currie Cup last year.
SHARKS TEAM: Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Frans Steyn (captain), Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Lubabalo Mtembu, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Franco van der Merwe, Anton Bresler, Jannie du Plessis, Craig Burden, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Allan Dell, Wiehahn Herbst, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Francois Kleinhans, Charl McLeod, Meyer Bosman, Odwa Ndungane, Riaan Viljoen.