One of the most satisfying things about the Sharks in 2009 is that, apart from a minor tweak here and there, we can pretty much rattle off the starting XV that we know will play, without having to think about it too much. Let’s cast our minds outside of the regular starting side and have a look at a few up-and-coming players looking to really make their mark this year.
The front row is an area of incredible depth for the Sharks, so we’ll start our journey by focusing a spotlight on two young men eager to make their mark a little further back, at lock. The first is Alistair Hargreaves, who is really no stranger to anyone who has followed Sharks rugby over the last few seasons. Best remembered as the captain of the South African under 19 side that won the inaugural IRB World Championship in 2005, the 22-year-old former DHS pupil has yet to make a real mark on senior rugby. Initially written off as too light to make it in the big leagues, Hargreaves has packed on the bulk and, after a frustrating early 2008 as captain of an underwhelming Wildebeest team, really started to play some decent rugby in last year’s Currie Cup. Hargreaves combines a high workrate with decent pace and superb ball skills and provided the tighter aspects of his game continue to improve, he seems a natural successor to Albert van den Berg in the Sharks 22. Expect Hargs to take a big step up in 2009, starting with the Stormers game.
Our second lock in the making was Hargreaves’ partner at under 19 level, Johan Snyman. Joe’s career has been a little up and down since his exploits for the SA under 19s in 2005 and the big man from George has so far been unable to add to his single senior Sharks cap – an appearance against the Lions in a Currie Cup fixture back in 2006. At 2m and 114kg, he’s the perfect size and has the right temperament to perform the “enforcer” role in the tight five. Initially frustrated at a lack of game time in 2008, Snyman spent the latter part of last year in New Zealand – first at Murray Mexted’s IRANZ and then playing in the NPC for the Hawke’s Bay Magpies. He’s now back in Durban and eager to make his mark in the Sharks second row.
The emergence of Jean Deysel as a loose-forward of real class has gone some way to ease the headaches of the Sharks coaching staff when it comes to options on the blind side. Last year, Nic Strauss, Nikolai Blignaut and even Steven Sykes were pressed into service in the number 7 jersey in times of real desperation, but the fact remains that quality backup to Deysel remains one of the few areas of real weakness in the current Sharks squad. Young Justin Downey is the man I feel is best positioned to fill that void in the near future. He’s yet another product of 1986 (clearly a good year) and at 1.93m and 102kg is big enough to make his presence felt. Downey’s real strength, though, is his pace and a set of ball skills that would see him fit in quite comfortably in the centres. He has come up through the ranks of KZN rugby and also attended Mexted’s academy, where he won praise from the great Murray himself. Comfortable on either side of the scrum, I’d like to see Downey establish himself as a specialist number 7 in the Vodaom Cup this year and hopefully force his way into the senior squad in time for the Currie Cup, if not before.
Charl McLeod is not as young as the other guys mentioned thus far. The lightning-quick scrumhalf started his rugby journey in Pretoria, before playing for both WP and the Lions at Vodacom Cup level. He spent the latter part of 2007 with the Valke, where he caught the eye of the Sharks coaching staff and was offered a Sharks contract in time for the 2008 season. The blonde halfback, who turns 26 in August, has seen some of his stiffest competition for a spot in the squad fall by the wayside, as first Scott Mathie left and then Ruan Pienaar was shifted to flyhalf. Although he is still some way behind Rory Kockott in the pecking order, expect to see McLeod’s name appear far more prominently on the Sharks team sheet as the season progresses.
Our final young player is certainly no stranger, as we all saw what he is capable of during the latter stages of last year’s Currie Cup. It’s thanks to former Griquas man Swys de Bruyn that we can now call Riaan Swanepoel one of our own and the hard-running utility back will look to take full advantage of Waylon Murray’s early season misfortune and seal a spot in the Sharks match 22 this Super 14. Swannie has done his time with the juniors and is itching to make his mark on this year’s competition. Equally at home at flyhalf or anywhere in the three quarter line, his biggest challenge will be to balance his thirst for gametime with avoiding Frans Steyn syndrome. I wouldn’t be too worried about that right now, though. Swannie needs to play and with Adi Jacobs’ long overdue elevation to the starting XV seemingly a formality, I back the young former Griqua to emerge as the Sharks backline supersub (and destroyer-in-chief) in 2009.
Come on, lads! Show us what you can doTweet