The Sharks seem to have a huge problem on the blindside of the scrum and no easy way to fill it in time for Saturday’s visit to Loftus.
AJ Venter and Keegan Daniel took turns wearing the number 7 jersey in the Super 14. Big AJ was favoured for the first two games, but looked off the pace. The combination of two smaller, quicker guys operating on the flanks worked beautifully against the Blues, but then started to lose effectiveness as the season wore on. The Sharks found they were getting bullied off the ball at the breakdown, heralding a return for Venter. He did very well in the last few games, only to be surprisingly dropped for the semi-final, in favour of Tongan travesty Epi Taione.
Venter has gone off to WP, though, leaving a pretty big hole for the Sharks to fill.
Jean Deysel was the logical successor to the big man, but coupled with the fact that Ryan Kankowski is with the Springboks, he was probably expected to spend more time at number 8 this Currie Cup. The argument turned out to be a moot one, as Deysel broke his hand before the competition even started. Latest reports indicate that he will be out for at least another 3 weeks.
Botes and Daniel have been operating with reasonable success as a 6-8 combination, with the irrepressible Skollie Ndlovu providing impetus off the bench. Steve Sykes has been pressed into service as a makeshift foil on the blindside, but his lack of pace and appreciation for the niceties of loose forward play have been shown up badly in games against Western Province and the Kavaliers. Persevering with Sykes against a Bulls loose trio that includes Pedrie Wannenburg and Danie Rossouw, both players that are approaching Sykes’s size, yet a lot quicker.
As it is, Sykes himself is struggling with a knee injury picked up against the Bolanders and is in a race against time to be fit.
Further compounding the problem is news that up-and-coming loose forward Mike Rhodes has had to have a knee operation. He will be out of the game for upwards of 8 months. Jacques Potgieter is fit and training with the squad, but is understood to not be in the Currie Cup selection frame right now. John Plumtree may well find he has no option but to hand a start to the exciting young Justin Downey. The blonde flanker had a pretty good Vodacom Cup and is apparently highly rated by none other than Murray Mexted, having attended the IRANZ last year.
Whether Sykes recovers or not, the Sharks are going to have to be creative in the coming weeks, with big games against the Bulls, Cheetahs and Lions coming up. Playing Albert van den Berg on the flank may work as a stopgap. Another option would be hastily acquire the services of someone playing in the lower leagues. Or perhaps the European circuit, which has just come to the end of a season, might yield something in terms of SA players keen to return home. Talk is that a particular blonde former-Sharks loose forward has been spotted in Durban; could this perhaps be the miracle that Plumtree seeks?Tweet