Plumtree opts for Kankowski
Sharks coach John Plumtree has sprung a bit of a surprise by effectively making Ryan Kankowski the replacement for the injured Willem Alberts in his team for Friday’s must-win Super Rugby derby against the Vodacom Bulls at Mr Price Kings Park.
As anticipated, Alberts was withdrawn from consideration because of a knee injury picked up playing for the Springboks against England.
And ditto for fullback Patrick Lambie, whose ankle injury did not respond from treatment quickly enough for him to pass a fitness assessment before the team announcement. He will be replaced in the No 15 jersey by Louis Ludik.
With Steven Sykes also out after having a scope inserted on his injured knee after the last match against the Lions four weeks ago, it means there are several changes to the side that suffered a shock defeat in Johannesburg last time out.
The big gain is Frans Steyn, who comes in at inside centre for Meyer Bosman, who drops back to the bench with Tim Whitehead continuing at outside centre, where the exciting young Paul Jordaan, who missed the Lions match because of South Africa under-20 commitments, is still out with a hamstring injury.
But the loss of Alberts, Sykes and Lambie in particular will be keenly felt by the Sharks, who face a simple equation as they go into the last phase of the season – win both remaining games and they qualify for the extended play-offs by finishing in the top six; lose either, and they will be knocked out of the competition.
Plumtree’s response to the loose-forward conundrum has been an inventive but potentially brilliant one – instead of bringing in Jean Deysel as his big ball-hugging No 7 flanker, he has moved Marcell Coetzee back to a role he filled for the Sharks earlier in the year and effectively had to fulfill in the recent final test against England in Port Elizabeth.
Coetzee’s ability to clean out might have been affected by the loss of his big Sharks teammate from the Bok back row at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, but he showed up as a better carrier on the night than the man he effectively stares down on Friday – Bulls blindside flank Jacques Potgieter.
Keegan Daniel has played almost all his games for the Sharks this season at No 8 but he is no stranger to openside flank, which is where he returns for this game to accommodate the bulky and rangy presence of Kankowski off the back of the scrum.
The locks are a potential Achilles heel for the Sharks in this game. Sykes was outstanding in the recent win over the Stormers and he will be missed for both his physical approach and his experience, but young Pieter-Steph du Toit has been included as the No 4 lock – most consider him more of a No 5 – and he is highly regarded by most coaches who have worked with him, not the least of those being current Springbok mentor Heyneke Meyer.
Sharks team: Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen, Tim Whitehead, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Frederic Michalak, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel (captain), Anton Bresler, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Craig Burden, Wiehahn Herbst, Jandre Marais, Jean Deysel, Cobus Reinach, Meyer Bosman, Odwa Ndungane.