The Sharks will go into Saturday’s crunch Super 14 opener against the Stormers with a strong starting 15, boasting 10 Springboks in the lineup. Early season injuries have robbed them of depth, though and the bench is packed with newcomers, certain to enjoy a baptism of fire at Newlands.
John Smit will start at hooker this week, with Bismarck du Plessis deemed fit enough only to play off the bench. Deon Carstens and Jannie du Plessis are the starting props, but the ongoing sternum injury keeping Beast Mtawarira off the park means that young Melusi Mthethwa will earn his first Super 14 cap in the number 17 jersey. It’s a huge gamble, as the youngster has played very little top rugby to date, but one that Plumtree will feel he has no option but to take.
Albert van den Berg’s non-availability due to off-season surgery means another debutant, Alistair Hargreaves, will provide lock cover behind the first-choice pair of Steven Sykes and captain Johann Muller. Keegan Daniel will wear the number 6 shirt, with regular open-side Jacques Botes on the bench. This is again due to the latter returning from injury. Jean Deysel and Ryan Kankowski complete the loose trio.
The backline is at full strength for this encounter and picks itself, with Rory Kockott and Ruan Pienaar operating as the halfbacks. Frans Steyn will enjoy the first of (hopefully) many starts at inside centre this season, with Bok number 13 Adi Jacobs outside him. Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen and Stefan Terblanche are the back three, as expected.
The worrying lack of experience on the bench continues into the backs, though, with all three replacements, Ross Cronje, Riaan Swanepoel and Luzuko Vulindlu set to enjoy their first taste of Super Rugby this weekend.
15. Stefan Terblanche, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Adrian Jacobs, 12. Francois Steyn, 11. JP Pietersen, 10. Ruan Pienaar, 9. Rory Kockott, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Johann Muller (Captain), 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. John Smit, 1. Deon Carstens
16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. Melusi Mthethwa, 18. Alistair Hargreaves, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Ross Cronje, 21. Riaan Swanepoel, 22. Luzuko Vulindlu