Fitness tests for injured Sharks quartet
There is no guarantee that the players who missed out on the Sharks’ win over the Vodacom Bulls in their penultimate Super Rugby league fixture last week will be ready for the final match against the Cheetahs in Durban on Saturday.
Patrick Lambie, Willem Alberts, Jacques Botes and Steven Sykes will all undergo fitness tests later this week to determine their availability for a match which is building up as a bit of a strange one for the Sharks in that they might find they start the game needing to win – but not by so much that they overtake the Bulls on the overall log.
Springboks Lambie and Alberts sat out the Bulls game with an ankle and knee injury respectively. Both are important players and coach John Plumtree will want them to be available for the knock-out stage of the competition, which for the Sharks will start the following weekend if they clinch a top-six place against the Cheetahs.
So while Lambie was touch and go last week to the extent that a final fitness test was set for the last possible moment before the Bulls game, there is a good chance he will either sit out the Cheetahs match or play off the bench.
The Sharks will have been emboldened by the ease with which they handled the Bulls with both Lambie and Alberts, who is continuing his battle with a knee niggle, out of action.
Sykes had a scope applied to his knee after the Lions match before the break for the international window and is unlikely to be back this week either, while Botes is touch and go and it is debatable whether he will be needed if the Sharks continue with the loose-trio – Keegan Daniel at No 6, Marcell Coetzee and Ryan Kankowski – that did so well against the Bulls.
Plumtree has admitted that his team faces a potential conundrum this weekend as the prize for finishing sixth on the log, which is a trip to face the Brumbies in Canberra or even, an outside chance, the Stormers in Cape Town, is a much more appetising prospect than the one for finishing fifth – a flight to the south island of New Zealand to face the Crusaders.
Provided the other games that could impact on their position turn out in their favour – the Hurricanes and Reds both have to get a full house of five log points in the matches played earlier in the weekend to displace the Sharks from the top six as they go into their final match – the Sharks could well find themselves starting the game wanting to avoid a four-try bonus point that could see them leapfrog the Bulls.
NO SPECIAL DISPENSATION
Meanwhile there doesn’t appear to be any prospect at this stage of the Sharks asking Sanzar for permission to field Frans Steyn in the knock-out phases.
Although Steyn has returned permanently to the Sharks, players need to be signed up by a franchise before April in order to be available for the play-offs.
A dispensation can be asked for in the event of a franchise experiencing an injury crisis in the relevant player’s position, but although Paul Jordaan was unavailable for the last match against the Bulls because of a hamstring injury, there is no such crisis at the Sharks.
With the Stormers being refused the use of Canadian Jebb Sinclair when they do quite clearly have a No 8 crisis – Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, Nick Koster and Nizaam Carr all out with injury and Nick Fenton-Wells gone to Saracens – the chances of the Sharks getting any dispensation are minimal.
They know that, so the word from Durban is that they are unlikely to even try.