Faced with somewhat of a looming crisis at prop heading into this weekend’s crunch match at Coca Cola Park, John Plumtree may well find himself needing to use Bok captain John Smit as emergency prop cover.
Details are sketchy at this stage of the week, as they always are and there are conflicting reports about the potential availability of the Sharks two best looseheads, Tendai Mtawarira and Deon Carstens. The latter pulled out of the Valke game at the 11th hour after injuring his calf in practice, while the Zimbabwean crowd favourite has been carrying a groin niggle ever since his heroics against the Wallabies at Ellis Park almost a month ago.
Planning for the worst-case scenario, which would see neither player making the trip to Johannesburg this weekend, the Sharks would no doubt start with Jannie du Plessis at tighthead and Pat Cilliers on the other side. Against the Lions, one should bank on replacing your tighthead after 60 minutes anyway, as their loosehead Heinke van der Merwe is a ferocious scrummager who has bested better props that Dr du Plessis with some ease. Cilliers himself is no slouch on the other side of the scrum, tighthead being his natural position anyway, but the approach of the Sharks management when it comes to the youngster seems to be one of caution. After bursting onto the scene in 2007, Cilliers has spent the better part of a year on the sidelines nursing a variety of knee injuries and I for one would be very surprised if the coaching staff were prepared to throw him into the deep-end at this stage.
Although having another loosehead like Melusi Mthetwa on the bench might seem the appropriate thing to do, I wonder if Plumtree et al aren’t planning on springing a surprise by picking John Smit as prop cover. It’s a move unlikely to find universal favour; Smit last played tighthead regularly for South Africa at age group level and has been found wanting when forced to switch over in recent times. That said, rumours would indicate that Smit’s near-term future in Durban is likely to see him packing down on Bismarck du Plessis’s right hand side, as part of the agreement guaranteeing the latter gametime at hooker.
Bismarck du Plessis will start this crunch game at hooker with his brother alongside him and this is the configuration that, through the working of a strange sort of family synergy, always seems to lift the games of both players. Smit’s inclusion amongst the reserves should probably be a given at this stage, but the varying permutations regarding which of Carstens, Mtawarira or (hopefully) both are passed fir for the game should have quite an influence on the particular number the Bok captain ends up wearing.Tweet