Mthembu in the frame for Sharks spot
The Sharks have named a squad of 35 for the Super Rugby season that starts this weekend, but although it confirms the depth available to John Plumtree this season, with no fewer than 17 Springboks on the list, it hasn’t shed any light on the selection posers for this weekend’s game against the Cheetahs.
Most of the team selection for Saturday’s clash against the Sharks’ old nemesis at Vodacom Park in Bloemfontein is cut and dried, with the midfield and back three and front-row players picking themselves.
Odwa Ndungane has put in a strong challenge for Lwazi Mvovo’s position at left wing, otherwise the only backline questionmark is at scrumhalf.
Coach Plumtree has alternated Cobus Reinach and Charl McLeod quite a bit both in training and in the warm-up games, and those who have seen the Sharks train in the early season are none the wiser as to what Plumtree’s intentions are at No 9.
All he would say at a press conference on Tuesday in Durban was that he would make “a horses for courses selection.”
Just what that means is open to question. McLeod has the advantage of experience, which may come in handy in an opening match in the competition at a tough away venue, but Reinach has the snappier service and is also arguably more of a thorn to opposing defensive systems.
Reinach did play most of the bigger games in the Currie Cup in the No 9, with McLeod on the bench.
The other area open to speculation is No 8, where Lubalalo Mthembu, known as Tera Mthembu, has been a revelation in the pre-season.
He was reportedly the man of the match in the friendly against the Leopards, and the Sharks' coaching staff have also raved about his contribution to the more recent win over the Pumas in Nelspruit last weekend.
In KZN rugby circles, the loose-forward is being spoken of as a possible Sharks answer to the Stormers’ Siya Kolisi, who burst onto the first-class scene with such dramatic impact last year.
The problem is that Ryan Kankowski is back from Japan and while he was asked to work on his conditioning before being considered for selection, he is also back strongly in contention for a place in Bloemfontein.
One of the form South African loose-forwards last year, Kankowski is going to be an important cog in the Sharks machine this season – but will Plumtree risk selecting him into the starting team when he has yet to play a match in South Africa since returning from Japan?
It seems a 50/50 call at the moment and as with the scrumhalf dilemma, we will have to wait until the team is announced on Thursday before knowing which player Plumtree will select.
The good news for the Sharks is that Marcell Coetzee is back from his injury and is in the selection frame and he should pip Jacques Botes for the openside flank position.
PROBABLY SHARKS TEAM: Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Frans Steyn (captain), Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach (or Charl McLeod), Ryan Kankowski (or Lubabalo Mthembu), Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee, Anton Bresler, Franco van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Craig Burden, Beast Mtawarira.
Sharks squad for the season: Willem Alberts, Meyer Bosman, Jacques Botes, Anton Bresler, Craig Burden, Dale Chadwick, Marcell Coetzee, Kyle Cooper, Keegan Daniel, Allan Dell, Jean Deysel, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Monde Hadebe, Wiehahn Herbst, Butch James, Paul Jordaan, Ryan Kankowski, Patrick Lambie, Louis Ludik, Jandre Marais, Peet Marais, Charl McLeod, Tendai Mtawarira, Lubalalo Mthembu, Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Cobus Reinach, Sibusiso Sithole, Francois Steyn, Franco van der Merwe, Riaan Viljoen, Tim Whitehead.