The Sharks struggled to find the right loose forward combination in the Super 14 this year.
Early indications were that a pair of faster flankers, coupled with a bigger number 8 might be the ideal mix and this sort of trio excelled against the Blues, proving the deciding factor in that game. As the season wore on, though, the team found themselves bested at the breakdown as the two smaller guys were muscled off the ball. AJ Venter’s return at flank in the latter stages of the competition returned the loose trio to a more traditional configuration and the pack as a whole played better as a result.
The problem that the Sharks have with an eye on the Currie Cup, though, is that Venter has gone to the Cape and Ryan Kankowski is with the Boks and unlikely to be available until September at the earliest. This leaves Jacques Botes as the only member of the regular Super 14 loose trio available for the Currie Cup.
We appear to have uncovered a rising star in Jean Deysel, which is good. At 1.9m and 112kg, the Virginia lad is the perfect size to slot in at either blindside flank or at the back of the scrum. What’s more, he has good hands, decent pace and a lovely step. Keegan Daniel is the only other loose forward in the squad with Super 14 experience, but one has to wonder when (if ever) he is finally going to come good in a big way in senior rugby. Daniel is not big enough to make an impact in a tight game – this is an unfortunate reality. He struggles to stay over 90kg and despite his speed and skill, really struggles to be effective against guys that are 10 or more kilos heavier. He does not play like a traditional opensider; in fact, I would say he is not a very good ground player which makes him a more natural option at 7 or 8. Or at least, it would, were it not for the size problem. There is also the matter of his dodgy temperament to consider.
It is tempting to say that the Sharks should play with Deysel at 7, with Botes at 6 and Daniel at 8 (or even Daniel at 6 and Botes at 8) but I really don’t feel that we are going to find that combination effective, particularly in games against teams with more physical packs, such as the Bulls, Lions and Cheetahs. I feel we need to keep Botes on the open side, allow Deysel to play at no 8 and give a youngster a chance to establish themselves at blindside. But who do we have available?
I’m pleased to announce that Epi Taione will not come into the equation. Despite rumours to the contrary, he won’t be in Durban for the Currie Cup (or, hopefully, ever again). Let’s also assume that none of Nikolai Blignaut, Steven Sykes or Albert van den Berg (all of whom I rate as guys who could do a job at 7, if they weren’t needed more at lock) will only be considered in the second row at this stage.
Turning our attention to the loose forwards that played in the Vodacom Cup, we see a number of potential candidates. Justin Downey is a 21-year-old flanker who has come through all the ranks of Natal rugby. He spent a few weeks at Mexted’s place last year: a pretty sure sign that he is rated in Durban, as only the most promising guys are sent. At 1.93m and 102kg he has the size to make it. He is also flipping quick and has superb hands, making him one to watch. As part of the crazy loose-forward rotate-a-thon at the Wildebeest, he didn’t have much chance to settle in the Vodacom Cup, but should be poised to make an impact on the Currie Cup. He could be given a starting spot to see how he goes.
Thabo Mamojele is another big guy. Also only 21, he’s a little taller than Downey and also a little heavier. I haven’t seen him play at all, but he’s in the squad and attending the Academy, meaning he must have some promise at least. Jacques Potgieter is another whose name has been mentioned in dispatches. He models his appearance on the talismanic Sebastian Chabal, but from what I’ve heard, he doesn’t yet have the smash to go with the flash. He’s exactly the same size as Mamojele (1.94m and 104kg) and can’t seem to decide whether he wants to play lock or flank. I’m not convinced he’s big enough for the former, nor does he really have the pace for the latter. I love to be proved wrong, but I’m afraid I have my reservations about this kid. He’s only just turned 22 though, so there’s still lots of time for him to develop.
Michael Rhodes is another interesting option. He’s big, very big. At 1.97m, almost as tall as AJ Venter and started to play pretty well in the latter stages of the Vodacom Cup when given a chance to settle at number 8. The former Michaelhouse boy is also still 21 and already 110kg. He is my pick to be a big star for the future.
Warren Whitely is another guy who did some decent things in the Vodacom Cup. He prefers open-side flank, but did quite well at eighth man this season. At 1.92m and 97kg, he’s the same sort of size as Warren Britz and could probably be a very good option at number 6 should Botes ever be unavailable. The Glenwood old boy is also only 21 (I’m getting tired of saying that, actually!)
Skollie Ndlovu is a guy that did very well at open-side in the Vodacom Cup. He’s a quick guy with good skills and the sort you really want to succeed. Problem is, he has the same problem as Keegan Daniel (only more so). At 1.8m and 90kg he’s just not quite big enough to really make it at a higher level than Vodacom Cup, in my opinion. I’d love for him to prove me wrong.
The other guy that is floating about is one who seems to have an air of mystery about him. Shaun Pammenter is a loose forward who up until recently was a crew member on Shosholoza. He has returned to Durbs to play rugby, but I can’t find any vital statistics on him whatsoever. Any help would be much appreciated!Tweet