Sharks boosted for second half
The Sharks will start the second half of Vodacom Super Rugby in a much better place from a player depth viewpoint than they did the beginning of the season back in February.
Whereas the Sharks weren’t helped in their opening two away derbies against the Bulls and the Stormers by the unavailability of key players that left them with a patchwork combination, certainly for the Stormers game in Cape Town, they are now heading back to full strength.
Beast Mtawarira, Ryan Kankowski, Odwa Ndungane and Marius Joubert all played for the Sharks XV in the Vodacom Cup last weekend and will be considered for a role in Saturday’s crucial match against the Highlanders at Mr Price Kings Park.
“We’ve got a couple of guys back who could come in for consideration for selection, which is good for us,” said coach John Plumtree.
The Sharks have seven matches remaining after enjoying their first bye, and with their second bye scheduled for the first week after the June break for the international window, the bulk of what remains comes over the next five weeks.
“This is the crunch period. We know we have to be successful over the next five games before that June break,” said Plumtree.
“We have a massive five games coming up before the June break but our main focus right now is on the Highlanders. We have to improve and the challenge has been dished out to the players. There are certain things we need to get right internally for that to happen and it’s what we’re focusing on at the moment.
“Our preparation has to be more accurate. Its little things like that we need to work on and by working on them we hope it will make a difference at the end of the day.”
The Sharks still look a little short at lock, where Ross Skeate is still out and Alistair Hargreaves is heading to England, but Plumtree suddenly has an abundance of riches at loose-forward and it will be interesting to see if he considers retreading one of them – Willem Alberts or Jean Deysel – into a lock in the short term.
Plumtree hasn’t said anything along those lines, but he agrees that he does face a selection quandary in the back row and has acknowledged that Willem Alberts, so impressive in the early part of last year and as an impact substitute for the Springboks at the World Cup, is not sure of his place.
“Marcell Coetzee and Keegan Daniel have been the stand-outs (among the loose-forwards), the rest have been fighting for a spot and it’s up to them to take that opportunity. Jacques Botes played well against the Chiefs, Willem Alberts has been trying to find form, Jean Deysel is coming back from a nasty injury and played well last time out for the Sharks XV. Ryan Kankowski did all right in his first game back.”
Assuming Plumtree’s words mean that Coetzee and Daniel, who is the team leader, are the loose-forwards assured of their places, it leaves Kankowski, Alberts and Deysel fighting for the other position. Complicating the issue is that Kankowski is a specialist No 8 but Daniel has done well from the back of the scrum.