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Rugby | Currie Cup

Daniel has big role to play

Sharks coach Robert du Preez may be spared a tricky back-row selection dilemma for Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Blue Bulls but even if he isn’t it will be a big call for him to overlook the experience of Keegan Daniel.

The Sharks selection quandary is prefaced on Jean-Luc du Preez being fit to play and would come about if Jacques Vermeulen was pronounced fully recovered from the rib injury that saw him leave the field early against Western Province. That latter scenario seems unlikely as Vermeulen has not trained with the team this week.

Blindside flank Du Preez was left out of the WP fixture at the 11th hour (he was initially named on the bench) to allow him further recuperation time from the effects of the epic final Castle Lager Rugby Championship test match between South Africa at Newlands.

Du Preez should be an automatic selection if he is ready to start as should his brother Dan, but the landscape has changed a bit since Super Rugby in that Vermeulen, recruited to the Sharks from WP while Gary Gold was still director of rugby, has come through in the way that many in the Cape would have expected him to when he was excelling at age-group level.

There is a bit of a logjam among the loose-forwards at the Stormers, so Vermeulen’s decision to trek east to KZN made sense, but if Philip van der Walt is back on the Sharks books next year after his stint in Japan, it is going to be interesting to see how much game time he gets. Vermeulen left the field with sore ribs against WP so probably won’t face the Bulls, with the back row that is training this week being made up of Daniel and the two Du Preez twins.

Had Vermeulen been fit however, or if he is fit in time for a possible Currie Cup final, Daniel’s place in the starting team might be less secure as Du Preez senior is known to subscribe to the Jake White school of thought – in other words, he prefers big bruising loose-forwards and has been open with the Durban media that he is not that sold on the small openside flank concept.

But while Vermeulen could fit quite well into an openside role, and has done so in the past, it would rob the Sharks of the invaluable Daniel experience. Daniel is back to his best form, and as a player who was the captain of the last Sharks side to win the Currie Cup, he should be hard to ignore. After a slow start to the year because of an injury sustained in a pre-season friendly, the 32-year-old Daniel has been an influential presence in the latter stages of the Currie Cup and should fit easily into a back row made up of himself as openside flank, Jean-Luc on the blindside and Dan du Preez at No8.

There is a good balance to that unit and it will mean that regular captain Ruan Botha will have a man who has experience of leading the Sharks to a Currie Cup title, and who was also part of previous Sharks domestic successes, there to offer advice and support as the team steps into the cut-and-thrust winner takes all play-off environment.

Daniel told Durban rugby writers this week that he was doing his bit by imparting his knowledge of what it takes to win the Currie Cup to the players who have not experienced the joy of winning the domestic trophy.

“It is a special feeling to win the Currie Cup and those of us who have done it have shared what it has meant to us with the others,” said Daniel.

“We have spoken about it around the campfires and I hope our love for the Cup has rubbed off on the youngsters. It is important for our young group to experience that feeling of accomplishment. It will breed confidence going forward. It will do this Union so much good if we can get to the final. It has been a while and we understand what the fans are demanding. We desperately want to win for them on Saturday.”

It has indeed been a while. The Sharks last hosted a final in 2012, when they lost unexpectedly to an under-strength Western Province team. The following year though they travelled to Cape Town as underdogs after WP had topped the log and reversed the result, with Daniel doing an excellent job of leading the side. Since then the Sharks have hit hard times and there have been no home play-off games in either Currie Cup or Super Rugby to get Durban rugby people excited.

Given how well Daniel has led the side when asked to, he has gone through a somewhat bizarre couple of seasons since that 2013 Currie Cup final win. It will be recalled that after leading the Sharks to Currie Cup glory he was relieved of the captaincy when Jake White arrived in Durban to take over as coach and Daniel played only when injuries allowed it during the White era.

He then left for Japan before being lured back to Durban by Gold, and he had just reclaimed the captaincy again when there was another change of coach and, of course, with the Du Preez twins doing so well, his place in the starting team became less certain. That injury at the start of this year didn’t help either.

It appears though that Daniel would like to taste Currie Cup glory once more, even if it is only as a foot soldier, and he does have a valuable contribution to make towards that goal.


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