Since John Plumtree took over as head coach of the Sharks, a core value he has insisted on among his charges is “pride in the jersey” and respect for the achievements of the Sharks teams of yesteryear.
Mike Greenaway writes in The Mercury that the popular coach will be reminding the Sharks of these responsibilities in their change room come kick-off against the Lions on Saturday (5pm), a match of critical importance to the home team.
This match could well be the watershed of the Currie Cup season for a Sharks team that has spluttered to fourth place on the log, but really needs to find its feet sooner rather than later and kick on, otherwise the Sharks are going to get left behind in a Currie Cup race that is starting to hot up.
To follow up last week’s heavy defeat in Bloemfontein with a loss at home would be disastrous.
The Sharks have had their extenuating circumstances in the competition, most of the Super 14 team was called up to the Springboks, and they have had a slew of injuries, but they are now into round six and the Sharks have to pull themselves together, kick last week’s limp performance against the Cheetahs into touch and deliver a showing worthy of their famous black-and-white jerseys.
The return of Ryan Kankowski, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, Odwa Ndungane and Ruan Pienaar will certainly have perked up spirits in the camp, and there has been further good news in the return to fitness of Bradley Barritt and Jean Deysel, but while all these players will provide much-needed spark, the team as a whole needs to lift its game.
As expected, Ndungane replaces Henno Mentz, Barritt resumes at No 12 for Andries Strauss, No 8 Kankowski displaces Keegan Daniel to the bench, and Deysel takes over from Nikolai Blignaut on the flank. The Beast will only be unleashed in the second half, with Deon Carstens retained at loose-head prop.
Interestingly, Frederic Michalak has been bracketed with Ruan Pienaar at No 10 because of an ongoing worry about the Frenchman’s bruised hip. If Michalak passes his late fitness test, Pienaar will play scrumhalf instead, with Scott Mathie dropping to the bench.
Either way, the Sharks will have a gifted player at No 10.
In a change to the second row, Plumtree has preferred the line-out skills of Albert van den Berg to the grunt of Steven Sykes, who drops to the bench.
The Lions return to Durban for the first time since their famous semifinal win here last year, and once again they are on a roll after a bad start to the season.
They have won their last three matches, and coach Eugene Eloff has been able to name a strong side since a number of players passed fitness tests yesterday.
Rugby World Cup centre Jaque Fourie was not one of them, though, and he has been replaced by former Pinetown schoolboy Jaco Pretorius who comes in from the wing, with Heinie Gordon taking his place.
In a late change, Earl Rose has shifted from fullback to flyhalf, and Louis Ludik will play fullback.Tweet