Let’s move on to the second row in our series of articles assessing the depth available to the Natal Sharks in the 2008 Currie Cup.
The Sharks lock brigade, though pretty strong, seems to suffer from the problem that they are either all a little long in the tooth, or still too light in the pants, with few anywhere in between. The departure of Johan Ackermann into what will probably be retirement for real this time leaves a big hole at number 4. AJ Venter was probably a natural candidate to step into that role, but he too has left. Johann Muller is a reassuring presence, having quite strangely been omitted from the Bok squad, but the likelihood is that he will be withdrawn for at least some of the Currie Cup, probably at the insistence of the National Coach, to allow time to recover from niggling injuries caused by too much rugby over the last 18 months. This leave Albert van den Berg as the only experienced lock in the squad, which is little consolation since he seems to lack any form of leadership ability and tends to disappear when picked to start in a tight game. All-in-all, not a great situation to be in.
There is, of course, the young crop. Steven Sykes is the most experienced of these, having a good few Super 14 caps under his belt by now. He is fast, strong and has good hands. On the downside, though, he appears injury prone and has already broken down once this season, leaving the Sharks needing to drag Ackies back kicking and screaming to fill the void. His pace and skills, though, might well be better utilised at blind side flank in the coming months, leaving the young Nikolai Blignaut as the next man to come in at 4. Blignaut played a fair amount of Currie Cup last year but has been moved around so much in the second and back rows that no-one seems to know what his best position truly is. He hasn’t quite made the step up from age-group rugby yet, despite being on the fringes of the senior ranks for almost 3 years.
Alistair Hargreaves is another young lock who was a real star at age-group level, yet seems to be struggling to take the step up into the senior ranks. The former SA U-19 skipper has now bulked up to 110kg and should be poised to make an impact this year. He failed to really impress in the Vodacom Cup this year, however, so one wonders if he really is likely to shine against the other locks in this year’s Currie Cup; men such as Wilhelm Steenkamp, Ross Skeate, Barend Pieterse and Gerhard Mostert who all looked comfortable in the Super 14.
Johann “Joe” Snyman is another big youngster who has been around for a few years but hasn’t managed to crack the big time yet. At 2m tall and 112kg, he’s certainly big enough, but will he show the mean streak necessary to survive in this tough position? Nolan Clark and Schalk “Pampoen” van Jaarsveld also represented the Wildebeest in the second row this year. The latter is still very young and may well go on to greater things; the former is probably more of a journeyman to be called on when all else fails. At least both are bigger than Nqubeko Zulu who at 1.92m and 92kg will surely never make it as a lock at Currie Cup level.
A number of other guys in the squad, including Jean Deysel, Ulrich Potgieter, Michael Rhodes and Thabo Mamojele could do a job in the second row, if required, but given the lack of depth at the side and back of the scrum, they will be discussed in more detail when we look at the loose forwards in the next article.
All-in-all, the cupboard is looking reasonably bare at the moment, unless a youngster or two takes a big step up in this year’s Currie Cup. Should Johann Muller be available for the majority if the campaign, it would go some way to alleviating the concerns as in Muller, Sykes and van den Berg, we at least have three experienced campaigners to help the youngsters develop.Tweet