Now, suddenly, the Sharks have to contemplate life in the Super 14 without lock Johan Ackermann.
John Bishop writes in The Witness that the persevering veteran Springbok lock, who has continued to surprise friend and foe with the quality and power of his rugby in the twilight years of his career, has moved to Cape Town to start a new career in business.
Sharks coach Dick Muir has apparently told the 37-year-old to keep fit in case he is needed for the play-offs at the end of the long campaign but, for the moment, he has to find himself another strong scrummaging, hard-driving lock.
The plan was that young Steven Sykes, returning from shoulder surgery via the Wildebeest, would be back this weekend but he has still to reach full match fitness and it is unlikely that he will be tossed into the top-of-the-log clash with the Auckland Blues.
Muir admitted that Ackermann would leave a massive hole but he has some options. Lanky Bok lock and lineout specialist Albert van den Berg, who has spent much of his rugby life playing off the bench, could start.
He may lack the physicality of Ackermann and the power on the drive but he would improve the lineout while his mobility is well-suited to the new, faster game.
Muir, of course, could also opt to switch another veteran, flank AJ Venter, to the second row while the 112kg Jean Deysel, one of the Sharks’ substitutes who made a match-winning impact at Loftus on Saturday night, could be used either at flank or lock.
Muir is expecting to have both Bok scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and hooker Bismarck du Plessis over their injuries and back for the Blues game but both inside centre Brad Barritt and prop Jannie du Plessis were nursing bumps and will have to be assessed this week.
Muir said that the log-leading Blues would provide the Sharks with their toughest test this season.
They have beaten both the Lions and the Cheetahs by 50 points over the past two weeks and have adapted effectively to the new laws.
“They are definitely the form team so far this season,” said Muir. “They are well-balanced, mobile and have game-breakers across the park. It will be a heck of a test.”
The match kicks off at 19:10 on Saturday.Tweet