Sharks selection advertises impressive depth
Anyone who doubts the depth that the Sharks have available to them in the coming Vodacom Super Rugby season need only take a look at the bench that has been selected for Saturday’s opening competition match against the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Even with barnstorming Springbok blindside flanker Willem Alberts ruled out of the early stages of the season with injury, there is still no place in the run-on 15 for Jean Deysel, who last year captained the team for most of the Currie Cup. Instead, Sharks coach John Plumtree has switched another Springbok, Marcell Coetzee, into the No 7 jersey, a position which many feel is his best.
Coetzee played blindside flank for the Sharks in the early stages of last year’s competition and was outstanding as a carrier, though he is certainly no soft touch when it comes to the scavenging role of the No 6. He tends to be better at that though when in combination with Alberts’ forceful play, and even though Heinrich Brussow is not playing for the Cheetahs, Plumtree may have been engaging his recall of some of the nightmare visits the Sharks have made to Bloemfontein in the past when he selected Jacques Botes on the flank.
The veteran is one of the best fetching flanks in the business, and with the versatile Coetzee and talented and rangy Ryan Kankowski with him in the back row, the Sharks’ loose trio looks a well balanced one. And then of course they have Deysel on the bench ready to add his significant driving impact when the opponents are tiring.
Altitude may well be a factor, particularly so early in the season when it’s so hot, with the earlier kick-off perhaps playing more into Cheetahs hands than the later one in Pretoria the night before suits the Bulls. If it is, the Sharks can feel they have a bench well equipped to do the necessary, with Deysel being joined by Springboks in Charl McLeod, Meyer Bosman and Odwa Ndungane, with the promising Pieter-Steph du Toit and Kyle Cooper the only replacements who don’t boast plenty of Super Rugby experience.
And experience appears to have been the buzz-word in the Plumtree selection, particularly at forward, where he opted to start with Kankowski even though he hasn’t played any warm-up games since returning from Japan. There was some speculation in Durban that Lubalalo Mthembu might get his Super Rugby debut in the starting team after an impressive pre-season, but he is going to have to wait for his opportunity.
Plumtree voted against experience at scrumhalf, where Cobus Reinach gets his first start at Super Rugby level ahead of McLeod after being such a revelation in the Currie Cup last season. Otherwise the rest of the team selects itself, with the combination vindicating Plumtree’s claim that his men are better prepared this year because most of them have graduated to being senior players.
It will be interesting to see how Frans Steyn goes in his first game as captain at Super Rugby level, but the Springbok centre doesn’t appear to be making too much of a fuss about wearing the armband.
“There are plenty of other players who have leadership experience and who have been around for a long time so they will help me and all I will really need to do is make a few decisions. I will be playing my normal game and it won’t feel too different for me,” said Steyn.
Still, any self-deprecation aside, Steyn does add significantly to the Sharks arsenal in a season where they will be looking to go one better than last year, when they lost in the final in Hamilton. Plumtree said at the end of last year that Steyn would be one of his leaders as he has matured, and he has backed that confidence by selecting him into the void left in the captaincy by the early injury to Keegan Daniel.
“Plum might disagree, but I think I’m the same guy. It’s just that when you are younger you don’t think of the team as much as you do when you’re older. I am one of the senior players now so I can’t be the guy making mistakes all the time. I need to lead by example,” said Steyn.
SHARKS TEAM: Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Frans Steyn (captain), Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Jacques Botes, Anton Bresler, Franco van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Craig Burden, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Wiehahn Herbst, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Meyer Bosman, Odwa Ndungane.