Sharks coach Dick Muir on Tuesday delayed finalising his team for Friday night’s Super 14 opener against the Western Force at King’s Park but still expects to name close to a full-strength outfit.
John Bishop reports for The Witness that the injuries largely involve players on the bench but wing Odwa Ndungane is one of his first-choice players who will miss the Force game.
Heno Mentz rather than Stefan Terblanche is expected to take over from Ndungane.
On the evidence of last night’s practice, Muir is to field close to the team which did duty in the final pre-season friendly against the Lions last week.
Frans Steyn will start at fullback with JP Pietersen and Mentz on the wings. Waylon Murray and Brad Barritt will be in midfield with Frenchman Freddie Michalak and Ruan Pienaar the halfback pairing.
The pack has a tried and tested look to it with Ryan Kankwoski, Jacques Botes and AJ Venter forming a familiar loose trio and captain Johann Muller locking the scrum with Johan Ackermann.
Depth for the long season
With first-choice Springbok tighthead BJ Botha returning after missing the Lions game, Muir may consider shifting the experienced Jannie du Plessis across to the loosehead though the form of Beast Mtawarira against the Lions will probably ensure that the crowd favourite keeps his place.
Muir said on Tuesday that the Sharks had shown in the two warm-up games that they had the depth for the long season while also providing him with a variety of options depending on the opposition.
“We have seen different combinations and I believe we have the best unit for the demands of the Force game.
“The Force beat us last year and they have pretty much the same personnel. They are the top Australian franchise, ranked higher than us in terms of general expectations this year.”
Muir said that the loss of experienced players like John Smit, Percy Montgomery, Butch James and Bob Skinstad had left the Sharks facing a rebuilding phase with new players coming in.
“But, in saying that, we have good depth in the squad as well as young players who are now in their third season of Super 14 rugby.”
Friday’s match will kick-off at 19:10.
Likely Sharks starting line-up:
Frans Steyn, Henno Mentz, Waylon Murray, Brad Barritt, JP Pietersen, Freddie Michalak, Ruan Pienaar, Ryan Kankowski, AJ Venter, Jacques Botes, Johann Muller (c), Johan Ackermann, BJ Botha, Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira.