Bitter acrimony between the Sharks and the Cheetahs provides the unhappy backdrop to the first round of local Super 14 friendlies.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa writes for the Times Online that the two were supposed to play against each other in a warm-up game in Dubai on Saturday, but the match was cancelled due to the sponsor pulling out.
“We’re disappointed in the Cheetahs,” Sharks coach John Plumtree said. “We’re a fellow (Super 14) franchise and we need to work together, now they’ve just let us down.”
Instead of agreeing to play the game locally, the Cheetahs went their own way by organising a fixture against Griquas on the same day.
The decision has left the Durban side as the only local Super 14 team without a friendly this coming weekend, which has incensed Plumtree.
In Bloemfontein the Cheetahs’ coach Naka Drotske was hardly apologetic, citing the central union’s lack of riches as the reason they chose to play Griquas at Grey College instead. (The pitch at Vodacom Park has just been re- laid.)
“We don’t have the money of the bigger unions,” he explained. “The deal in Dubai was all expenses paid and we were going to make R100000 out of the game.
“Suddenly there were a lot of costs involved and we needed to make up our minds quickly about organising another game.”
When he was told that Plumtree was upset with the decision, Drotske replied: “That’s his opinion, but I tried to get a hold of him and he was nowhere to be found.”
Compounding Plumtree’s problems is that when the Sharks face the Bulls on February 4 they will not play against their probable Super 14 starting line-up.
Frans Ludeke will only play his strongest side in the game against the Cheetahs on January 30, meaning the side to play the Sharks will largely be made up of second stringers.
As a result, the Durban side — which is seen as SA’ s best hope in the Super 14 — runs the risk of being the most underdone of the local teams going into the tournament.
Setbacks aside, Plumtree lauded the impact of Australian Rugby League legend Andrew Johns. “Johns was excellent, he taught our playmakers a lot. The boys enjoyed the intensity he brought to training and the different ways of going about things.”
Going into the friendlies, Drotske’s greatest concern is whether flanker Kabamba Floors will be a back or a forward.
“I’d like to sit and talk to him about his future,” Drotske said. “We’ve brought in Danwel Demas and Bjorn Basson at wing, and we’ve also got a lot of loosies.
“I have to be honest and say he’s not going to start in either position. So we need to discuss what he wants.”
At the Stormers, Rassie Erasmus confirmed his decision to try promising back-rower Nick Koster on the wing ahead of their match against English Premiership side Saracens on Sunday. Erasmus said he felt that Koster, who was in school in 2007, was not yet up to the physical requirements of the Super 14.
“We’ll try to play him in a position that’s not as physical,” he said. “He’s 106kg and can run the 100m in 11 seconds, is a tall man and has great ball skills. But I’m not saying he’ll stay there for the rest of his career.”
Erasmus was also keen on playing former Bulls flanker Hilton Lobberts at lock and Fijian Sireli Naqelevuki at outside centre.
“Hilton is built like a lock and a seven (blindside) flank, Juan Smith played both positions early in his career so it’s not such a big move. With Sireli there’s no move at all because he played wing and centre in Fiji.”
With Conrad Jantjes (groin) and Willem de Waal (hand) injured, Erasmus is also keen to see how Alipate Fatafehi fares in a match situation. The Tongan — a centre, winger and fullback — has impressed in training.
Erasmus has also opted for more friendlies this season to have a look at his depth. “I knew my starting line-up well last year, I want to see what the rest can do this year.”
The one coach who has gone for less practice matches is Eugene Eloff. The Lions mentor has opted for just one match, against the Bulls at Wits on Saturday evening.
“Statistics show that you get a lot of injuries from warm-up matches. I can’t take that risk,” he said. “Also, Super 14 matches are a big ask, physically, and there’s 13 of them. I know what we have in our players.”
“Loffie” also defended his new recruits Ashwin Willemse, Barry Goodes and Henno Mentz, who have been panned in some sections as being past it.
“I’ll leave it to the media to speculate. I wouldn’t have employed them if I thought they couldn’t do the job.”Tweet