In the first of a series of four articles looking forward to the Sharks Currie Cup campaign, let’s have a look at our front row options and assess the depth available to us.
Prop is the one area where the Sharks boast talent in depth that few other provinces can match. Tendai Mtawarira, the Beast, has taken his chances with both hands, having been called in to deputise for injured Bok Deon Carstens for this year’s Super 14 campaign. Beast was the form loosehead prop in South Africa all season and has been rewarded with a call-up to the Springbok squad, together with regular tighthead Brendon Botha. Neither is likely to be available to the Sharks at any stage of teh Currie Cup campaign, although we await news on exactly what involvement from Springbok squad members we can expect. Persistent rumours about Botha’s imminent departure for Ireland mean that we may actually have seen the last of this stalwart in black and white, which would be a sad thing indeed.
The Natal Sharks shouldn’t struggle in the front row during the Currie Cup, though. Carstens is over his injury and managed to get a little Super 14 game time under his belt over the course of the last month. He will slot straight in at loosehead and is sure to be a stalwart for the duration of the campaign, mixing strength in the scrum with excellent ball skills and a surprising turn of pace for such a big man. Another overlooked former Bok, Jannie du Plessis, will play the anchor role at tighthead for the duration of the competition and there isn’t another team in the Currie Cup that can boast a stronger pair of starting props (although with Wian du Preez and Kobus Calldo, the Cheetahs aren’t far behind).
The obvious backup option at tighthead is the exciting young Patric Cilliers and the youngster, himself fully recovered from his ugly knee injury, offers a dynamic aspect that should see him guaranteed a regular spot in the number 17 jersey. That said, he could possibly be rotated with du Plessis to keep both in top shape. Pat is an unusual tighthead in that he is a terrific natural athlete, wile at the same time not giving an inch in the tighter phases. Still only 21 years old, he has at least 12 years of top rugby ahead of him and will hopefully develop into one of the Sharks’ brightest stars in seasons to come.
Kees Lensing would generally be next in line at loosehead, but it seems he has been shipped off to Castres on a loan deal to see if he can put any more effort into representing them than he does for the Sharks. Good riddance, I say; hope it was a one-way ticket. Robbie Harris proved last year that he’s a more than capable loosehead, himself possessing very good ball skills. His defence around the fringes is a particular strength and he has been known to secure a turnover or two by hitting a guy just in that sweet spot as he tries to break around the side of the ruck. Pressed into service at tighthead last year when Cilliers got hurt, he initially struggled, but started to hold his own as he developed, eventually coming of age as a key member of the 4-man Sharks tight five that bested the Bulls at Loftus last year. With the tighthead depth still available, though, it’s at loosehead where I feel Harris will best be utilised in the future. He’s 27 now, just about the right age for a prop to start coming into his prime.
A number of players from the Wildebeest squad also stand an outside chance of making their way into the squad, should injuries strike. Pierre Bouwer is a 22-year-old loosehead from Despatch in the Eastern Cape. Dave Hawksworth is also a loosehead, who made his way back to Natal recently after a stint in England. He attended Glenwood Boys High and represented Natal at u19 level back in 2001. There was talk during the Vodacom Cup that he’s gone back to the UK to help out short-term at his old club, so he may well still be there. Melusi Mthetwa is another youngster, only 21 this year and fresh from the age-group ranks. Also a loosehead, he’ll need to bulk up a bit before being ready for Currie Cup rugby. Youngsters Sewes Oosthuizen and JC Strauss will likewise need more work in the junior ranks before making the step up.
First-choice hooker Bismarck du Plessis is likely to be very busy with national commitments during the Currie Cup, so it’s unlikely we’ll see him in the Sharks side at all. Negotiations apparently continue around John Smit, but again, we’ll be lucky to see him at all until the Super 14 next year at the earliest. This means a baptism of fire for Craig Burden in the Currie Cup, as the former winger will now be the primary option at number 2 for the duration of the campaign. Burden showed in the Super 14 that his basics are pretty solid and that he brings a new dimension to the position with his pace and ball skills. He is ready to take his place in the run-on side and I predict he will have a superb Currie Cup, particularly given the two experienced campaigners that will pack down on either side of him.
Skipper Badenhorst will doubtless continue as the back-up and Currie Cup is probably the correct level of the game to showcase his skills. He will be pushed hard by young Jody Jenneker, though, who has been rewarded for some decent play in the Vodacom Cup by being picked for the Emerging Springbok tour to Romania. It’s not a position where we have a huge amount of depth, though and it’s one where hopefully we’ll look at replacing some of the chaff with quality youngsters. Young Sibusisu Dube played a bit in the Vodacom Cup, but wasn’t mentioned significantly in any dispatches, while former KES boy Dylan Rutherford is a utility hooker-cum-prop option and a current Sharks Academy attendee.
All-in-all, we’re looking pretty good up-front for the Currie Cup. Next up, we’ll look at the second and back rows.Tweet