Butch takes No 12
Former Springbok World Cup-winning flyhalf Butch James will take up inside centre for the Sharks in their Vodacom Super Rugby clash with the Blues at Kings Park on Saturday.
Injuries have cut a swathe through the Sharks’ midfield resource base this year, with among others Meyer Bosman, Frans Steyn, Tim Whitehead, Paul Jordaan and Marius Joubert all unavailable for this game because they are indisposed.
The Sharks were considering fielding Pat Lambie at inside centre with James at flyhalf, but in the end opted for the reverse option.
It’s probably the right one too as Lambie needs game time in the No 10 jersey if he wants to be ready for international action in that position should a call-up come. He is currently back-up to Morne Steyn in the Springbok squad. James, who moved back to the Sharks from the Lions in the off-season, has retired from international rugby.
The midfield woes have prompted the Sharks to choose Louis Ludik, normally a fullback or wing, at outside centre. He got a run in that position in the friendly against the Lions in Johannesburg last Friday night.
Grant Bashford, the Sharks assistant coach under John Plumtree, has taken over the coaching this week, and he has opted to give Bismarck du Plessis another game off the bench after the Springbok hooker returned to the playing field as a reserve in the international series involving second tier nations that was completed last weekend.
Kyle Cooper has of course been in excellent form as the Sharks hooker this season and will start the game as the No 2.
The Sharks are strong in the back row, where Willem Alberts showed he was getting his momentum up after an injury layoff in last week’s Bok win over Samoa, and in the front row, where Cooper is flanked by two Springboks in the form of Jannie du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira.
However in the absence of Pieter-Steph du Toit from the second row there is a change of lock partner for Franco van der Merwe, with Edwin Hewitt coming in.
How he adapts, and how the midfield fares, could be the key to the Sharks’ chances of winning as the team that plays the Blues appears to have an experienced spine that was lacking because of injury earlier in the year.
Another player coming back off injury is reserve scrumhalf Cobus Reinach.
Sharks team: Riaan Viljoen, Odwa Ndungane, Louis Ludik, Butch James, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Charl McLeod, Keegan Daniel (captain), Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Franco van der Merwe, Edwin Hewitt, Jannie du Plessis, Kyle Cooper, Beast Mtawarira.
Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Danie Mieni/Wiehahn Herbst, Jandre Marais, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Cobus Rienach, Jaco van Tonder.