Sharks get big guns back
Sharks coach John Plumtree has returned to a combination that looks much more like a first choice team for Saturday’s crucial Vodacom Super Rugby clash with the Highlanders in Dunedin.
The Sharks mixed and matched the selections last week, with enforced changes being mixed with rotational selections. That being so, the side acquitted itself well in coming back from a 24-0 deficit at one stage to eventually only go down by a couple of points against the champion Chiefs in Hamilton. The experience the back-up players gained will have held the Sharks in good stead for the Highlanders game, as they have a strong bench, at least at forward.
At the back it’s not quite the case, with injury still playing havoc there. Tian Meyer comes in for the injured Cobus Reinach, who has flown home to have an injured leg seen to. Piet Lindeque drops to the bench this week and that is because the good news for the Sharks is that Springbok JP Pietersen has returned to the starting team after being injured in the match against the Stormers early last month.
Lwazi Mvovo, who has been out for slightly longer, is also back, and with Frans Steyn starting to regain some of his old form as his conditioning improves, the Sharks should back themselves out wide, particularly if Patrick Lambie continues the progress he started to make last week in rediscovering his attacking touch.
The pack welcomes back regular frontliners in skipper Keegan Daniel and blindside flanker Marcell Coetzee, as well as lock Franco van der Merwe. It is slightly surprising that Anton Bresler only plays off the bench as he played well last week, and ditto for Jean Deysel. However, Lubabalo “Tera” Mtembu certainly deserves a second start after being perhaps the pick of the forwards in Hamilton.
Former Lions captain JC Janse van Rensburg adds to the impressive depth on the bench at forward, and another Lions player, Derick Minnie, could make it even more so if he is included to make it a five two split between forwards and backs. At the moment he is bracketed with Odwa Ndungane, with a decision due on match day.
“We took up a step in the try-scoring department against the Chiefs when we scored four tries against the current champions and we’re hoping we can continue that this week,” said Plumtree.
“The Highlanders had a bye on the weekend and go an opportunity to freshen, so they’ll be tough. They have players out injured so they’ve had some problems. We know how tough they’re going to be,t hey will become spoilers in this competition, knock sides out. So we will have to make sure we play really well.
“Defence is a big part of it as they have some great attacking players. We will need to step up in that department.”
Sharks team: Riaan Viljoen, JP Pietersen, Francois Steyn, Meyer Bosman, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Charl McLeod, Lubabalo Mtembu, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel (capt), Franco van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jannie du Plessis, Kyle Cooper, Wiehahn Herbst.
Replacements: Craig Burden, JC Janse van Rensburg, Anton Bresler, Jean Deysel, Tian Meyer, Piet Lindeque, Odwa Ndungane/Derick Minnie.