The Sharks have been boosted ahead of their match against Highlanders with the news that flyhalf Ruan Pienaar will start the match, with other returning injured players JP Pietersen and Jean Deysel also included in the run-on 15.
Michael Marnewick writes for Sharksrugby.co.za that the three are integral members of the team and their presence has been missed in varying degrees, but their welcome return is a huge motivation for the side who know they have three intense weekends ahead of them.
“In the next few weeks we’re playing some really tough sides in the Highlanders, Waratahs and Bulls, they all have really solid forward packs and game breakers in their backs, so everyone needs to step up,” admits coach John Plumtree.
“It’s a new season for us now, we had our 10 week programme and then our bye week, everyone is refreshed and now it’s really the time to perform. We’re in fourth position with three home games remaining, that’s not a bad position, so that’s a positive, we just have to make sure we can select a side that is consistent over the next three weeks, and obviously having Ruan back is important for that. Amongst the forwards, we have some good depth there as well.”
Unfortunately, Adrian Jacobs is out with a shoulder injury sustained against the Crusaders while captain Johann Muller is also nursing a bump picked up in that match and a call will be made on his availability closer to the match. Albert van den Berg will start if Muller is not declared fit by the medical staff and Johan Snyman has been placed on standby. Andries Strauss has also been drafted in to the matchday 22. The Sharks XV captain will no doubt be missed by his team in their semifinal clash with Griquas (12 noon on Saturday at The Absa Stadium Durban) but adds a wealth of experience to The Sharks off the bench.
“It’s been a pretty tough campaign in terms of managing injuries, certainly for the last part of it I’d like to have some continuity,” adds Plumtree.
He admits that there is no underestimating the Highlanders who have shown the ability to play exciting rugby as well as to grind out narrow victories.
“They will play; when they beat the Bulls comfortably, that was probably their best performance of the season, and they beat a side like Crusaders six-nil, so they can slug it out with the best. They won’t come here feeling intimidated by any means.”
15. Stefan Terblanche
14. Odwa Ndungane
13. Riaan Swanepoel
12. Francois Steyn
11. JP Pietersen
10. Ruan Pienaar
9. Rory Kockott
8. Ryan Kankowski
7. Jean Deysel
6. Jacques Botes
5. Johann Muller ( Capt ) / Albert van den Berg
4. Steven Sykes
3. John Smit
2. Bismarck du Plessis
1. Tendai Mtawarira
16. Deon Carstens
17. Jannie du Plessis
18. Albert van den Berg/Johan Snyman
19. Keegan Daniel
20. Charl McLeod
21. Monty Dumond
22. Andries Strauss