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Frans Steyn © Gallo Images

Steyn to lead Sharks in friendly

Confirmation of how much Frans Steyn has matured since he has been away and his new status as a team leader has been provided by the Springbok star’s selection as captain of the Sharks team that will play the Leopards in Pietermaritzburg on Friday night.

Of all the local Super Rugby franchises, the Sharks are the ones who have appeared to operate most under the radar in the pre-season, and the match at Woodburn is one of two against second-tier South African opposition that will suffice as their on-field preparation for the new Super Rugby season.

Coach John Plumtree’s reasoning is that the lower-ranked opposition give them the physical opposition that is needed while enabling the team to work on strategy.

In the past the Sharks used to travel to Cape Town to take part in the pre-season triangular series featuring the Stormers and Lions (the Western Force before that), but the tournament never worked for the Sharks and they never seemed comfortable playing against teams they were due to play a few weeks later in competition.

The Sharks took a new path last year when they opted to play against second-tier teams, and while they lost their opening two Super Rugby derbies against the Bulls and the Stormers, Plumtree has opted to give the plan another go.

It certainly isn’t out of synch with what the other franchises are doing – most participants in Super Rugby appear to be opting for just two warm-up games this year.

Plumtree has called out what looks an almost full-strength backline, but is obviously availing himself of the opportunity against the Leopards to test his reserve depth at forward, with Bok stalwarts Jannie du Plessis, Willem Alberts and company all missing from the early-season selection.

Although Lions player Franco van der Merwe will make his debut at lock, he has mostly young players around him, including the highly promising national age-group star Pieter-Steph du Toit, who will partner Van der Merwe in the second row.

Du Toit’s ability to do to some extent what Eben Etzebeth did in his incredible growth spurt during his debut season in Super Rugby could determine the Sharks’ chances of winning the competition for the first time.

They have been let down by their lineout in some key games in the past, including the 2012 Currie Cup final against Western Province, and it is the only possible area of weakness in an otherwise awesome unit.

Steyn, back for his first full season with the Sharks after first making the move back from France last July, has now recovered from the injury that put him out of rugby for the second half of last season, and will be eager to make an impression as captain against the Leopards.

The extra responsibility should do him good. He leads the side to enable regular team leader Keegan Daniel to play off the bench.

The Sharks are not without plenty of leaders in their group, with Jean Deysel, who captained the side for much of the Currie Cup last year, wearing the No 7 jersey in the Pietermaritzburg game and there to help Steyn out. Van der Merwe also boasts quite extensive captaincy experience with the Lions.

Players not starting in this game, including Bok prop Tendai Mtawarira, scrumhalf Cobus Jordaan, centre Paul Jordaan and impressive fullback Louis Ludik can probably expect to start in the second pre-season friendly against the Pumas in Nelspruit next week.

SHARKS TEAM: Riaan Viljoen, Odwa Ndungane, Tim Whitehead, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Charl McLeod, Lubulalo Mtembu, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Franco van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Wiehahn Herbst, Kyle Cooper, Allan Dell.
Replacements: Craig Burden, Tendai Mtawarira, Jandre Marais, Anton Bresler, Keegan Daniel, Cobus Reinach, Meyer Bosman, Paul Jordaan, Louis Ludik


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