Sharks coach John Plumtree has an almighty task on his hands this week – how to re-introduce the plethora of returning Boks to the fold without upsetting the rhythm and continuity that has been built thus far.
After a pretty uninspiring start, the Sharks understudies have really managed to find some beautiful form and must surely be considered one of the favourites for the Currie Cup title, based on the way they’re playing. The introduction of hungry young talent in the form of Jean Deysel, Riaan Swanepoel and Chris Jordaan, in particular, seems to have galvanised the rest of the team. With a huge match against the Bulls coming up this weekend, Plumtree needs to think long and hard about the changes he makes.
The Sharks are already looking at getting an entire front row back from the Boks and should they be cleared to play, one would expect that all three of Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis would come straight into the team. It’s a pretty tough call though, given the form and leadership of stalwart Deon Carstens, who will presumably be the prop reserve. What then of the prodigiously talented Pat Cilliers? Perhaps against a team like the Bulls, it might be wiser to play two props on the bench? Skipper Badenhorts has probably done enough to secure the backup hooker berth, although one cannot discount the value of Craig Burden’s pace and power as an impact option.
Assuming Johann Muller is fit, the second and back rows will more-or-less pick themselves, with Keegan Daniel likely to continue at eighthman, as Ryan Kankowski has yet to fully recover from his shoulder injury. Albert van den Berg and Alistair Hargreaves were both great against Boland, but expect the youngster to make way for his senior this week, with Steven Sykes continuing in the impact role. One wonders if Skollie Ndlovu is really the right loose forward to have on the bench for an encounter of this nature, but unless Kankowski makes a surprise recovery in time, expect Ndlovu to be there in the number 19 (or possibly 20) shirt.
The backline becomes a complete lottery, though, with all of Ruan Pienaar, Frans Steyn, Adi Jacobs and Odwa Nudungane presumably coming into the selection frame. Hopefully Plumtree will have learned from Dick Muir’s catastrophic semi-final mistake and will persevere with Brad Barritt at inside centre. Adi Jacobs surely MUST have the inside track on the number 13 jersey, with Waylon Murray and Odwa Ndungane the likely options at wing. That leaves scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback as the only three positions left open, with Rory Kockott, Ruan Pienaar, Charl McLeod, Frans Steyn, Fred Michalak, Chris Jordaan and Stefan Terblanche all vying for them and it is here that Plumtree is really going to have to weigh up his options and play the diplomat.
Michalak has looked good at flyhalf, but the Sharks need to start developing continuity with an eye to next year’s Super 14, meaning a local boy has to play pivot. Ruan Pienaar should be the man, but he doesn’t want to play there. Frans Steyn does, yet has never quite looked the part at flyhalf. The combination that would probably work the best would see Kockott at 9, Pienaar at ten and Steyn at fullback. My money, though, would rather be on Pienaar and Steyn as the halfbacks with Terblanche to wear the number 15 jersey.
Possible Sharks team:
15 Terblanche, 14 Ndungane, 13 Jacobs, 12 Barritt, 11 Murray, 10 Steyn, 9 Pienaar, 8 Daniel, 7 Deysel, 6 Botes, 5 Muller (capt), 4 van den Berg, 3 J du Plessis, 2 B du Plessis, 1 Mtawarira
16 Burden, 17 Carstens, 18 Sykes, 19 Ndlovu, 20 Kockott, 21 Michalak, 22 Jordaan