The imminent arrival of flank-cum-centre Epi Taione from Japan, as well as the return from injury of tight forwards Deon Carstens, Pat Cilliers and Steven Sykes leaves the Sharks brains trust with some vexing selection decisions looking ahead to the upcoming Antipodean tour.
Sykes made his return last week from an off-season shoulder operation, coming off the bench to put in a solid half-hour caemo in the second row. Carstens came through well for the Wildebeest and will certainly look to move into the Sharks 22 this weekend, while Cilliers is still a few weeks away from fitness. The enigmatic Taione should make his way to Durban early next week and should come into the selection frame for the March 29 fixture against the Reds.
Carstens and Cilliers join a pool of props that have already performed superbly in this year’s competition. BJ Botha, Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis have all been towers of strength both in the tight and the loose, with the latter in particular displaying impressive form out of position at loose head over the last fortnight. Kees Lensing can’t get a look in, his work rate deemed not high enough. Carstens will walk into the squad as he was the first choice loose head last year. One feels that Cilliers (at only 21) is probably the man who will miss out on a tour spot, although the injury cloud over BJ Botha may well have a silver lining for the young Michaelhouse old-boy. If Botha is passed fit to tour, then Cilliers MUST be drafted to another province (perhaps the Stormers) to get some Super 14 gametime as he is far too good to languish in the Vodacom Cup this year.
The situation at loose forward is far less clear-cut. Daniel, Botes and Kankowski were utterly sublime against the Blues and as we predicted, other sides will find it hard to compete with the sheer pace and skill that this combination offers, particularly under the new laws. What the implication of this will be for veteran AJ Venter is not clear at this point, although he may well come to rue his enforced rest against the Blues. Venter comes back into the selection frame this weekend, but I for one would be very surprised to see him preferred at flank over either of Daniel or Botes.
Venter would appear destined for a move into the second row, as the retirement of Johan Ackermann has opened up a ready-made hole next to the skipper. Problem is, Sykes has been earmarked for this position for some time, meaning that one of these two is going to find themselves left out of the 22 completely, as neither offers the same dynamic as an impact player as old man Al van den Berg. Muir and Plumtree will need to use a fair amount of diplomacy here; Venter is a stalwart looking for a final hurrah, whereas Sykes represents the future. Neither will be happy to sit on the sidelines, but they need to consider the long-term future of the franchise and give the young gun the opportunities that he has waited for patiently over three seasons.
The emergence of Jean Deysel as a quality option at 7, coupled with the fact that Taione was procured primarily as a loose forward, doesn’t make the selection of a matchday 22 any easier. Assuming that Sykes, Muller, Daniel, Botes and Kankowski start, that leaves only 4 positions on the bench for van den Berg, Venter, Tainoe and Deysel to occupy. This assumes a 5-2 split, of course and that only three props will make the squad.
Don’t be too surprised to see the Tongan monster utilised on the wing as the season progresses, as this looks to be, quite frankly, the only place where we might actually need him!Tweet