Sharks may just be being clever
The wholesale changes, of which there are 11 in all if you count positional switches, made by Sharks coach John Plumtree may be viewed as panic in some quarters but they may instead be part of a strategy aimed at boxing clever through an extremely tough time for the franchise.
Regular skipper Keegan Daniel has been benched and Marcell Coetzee, lauded just a few games ago for his excellent performances, will also watch the opening Vodacom Super Rugby tour match against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday from the side of the field and be introduced later.
There is a whole new back row, with Jean Deysel, who played only as a replacement last week against the Cheetahs, leading the side.
He will have a complete newcomer to Sharks rugby in the form of Lions flanker Derick Minnie alongside him on the other flank.
If you consider that two stalwarts have been left out for Minnie, you would question the wisdom. Surely the other players can’t be happy with a newcomer being elevated above their regular teammates?
But you will only think that if you look at it in the sense that the players left out have been dropped. That is not necessarily the case, and while it may seem like a gamble for the Sharks to be targeting games when they are on tour, it could well be that they have decided to mix and match this week with the view that they would probably struggle to beat the Chiefs in Hamilton in the week they arrive in New Zealand even without their current injury crisis.
Maybe they’re not quite cutting their losses or targeting the Highlanders instead of the Chiefs, but there does look to be an element of that in the latest selection.
The Sharks have played a couple of tough derbies consecutively and with the team not due for a bye until the beginning of June, this is the time to start rotating. And you just have to look at the Sharks’ injury list to see why that is necessary.
Further changes to the Sharks team see Frans Steyn return to the side at outside centre and Piet Lindeque, normally a centre, take the No 11 jersey in place of Lions loan player Andries Coetzee, who was injured last week. Steyn is in the side of course because of the injury that has ended the season for Paul Jordaan.
Lubabalo Mtembu plays in Daniels’ place at No 8, while Craig Burden comes in for this game in place of Kyle Cooper, who has been the form hooker for the Sharks this season by some distance.
Surely that is as good an indication as any that there is rotation being employed here as opposed to a dramatic wielding of any axe?
Charl McLeod is in at scrumhalf in place of Cobus Reinach to complete the overhaul – probably a temporary one – of the team that lost narrowly to the Cheetahs.
Of couse it’s not as if the new players are slouches, and Jannie du Plessis, who returns as the starting tighthead to enable Wiehahn Herbst to switch sides, is the incumbent Springbok in the impressive.
Deysel led the side with distinction for most of last Currie Cup season and was excellent when he came on against the Cheetahs.
THE SHARKS Riaan Viljoen, Odwa Ndungane, Frans Steyn, Meyer Bosman, Piet Lindeque, Patrick Lambie, Charl McLeod, Lubabalo Mtembu, Jean Deysel (captain), Derick Minnie, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Anton Bresler, Jannie du Plessis, Craig Burden, Wiehahn Herbst.
Replacments: Kyle Cooper, Danie Miene, Franco van der Merwe, Keegan Daniel, Marcell Coetzee, Cobus Reinach, S’bura Sithole.