It’s always nice to have something to speculate about, so let’s look at the options for the Sharks going into this weekend’s game against the Waratahs. It’s a must-win, remember?
The pack pretty much picks itself and given the utterly superb performance by the front row (well, other than a certain chap in the number 2 jersey in open play) it would be pretty hard to justify picking anyone other than Beast and John Smit as the props. Sure, the Tahs will present a different challenge up-front, but then again, the Highlanders were also a pretty highly-rated scrummaging outfit until they left Durban with their tails firmly between their legs – not to mention considerably shorter necks.
So, it’s in the backline where all the fun will be. So far, we know that Rory Kockott is definitely out – handed a one-week suspension for flattening Adam Thompson. Frans Steyn will also play no part and it looks as though his Super 14 season – as well as potentially his Sharks career – has now come to an end. Adi Jacobs is still rated as 50/50, while Waylon Murray’s knee has flared up again, so he too is out. I’ve heard talk that JP Pietersen might also be a doubtful starter, but I’m choosing to ignore that in the interests of staying positive.
To mitigate, we have Ruan Pienaar back to full fitness, as well as Bradley Barritt in the mix. Together with the irrepressible Charl McLeod and ever-dependable Andries Strauss, we should hopefully have enough options to keep the Tahs at bay.
McLeod straight in for Kockott is a given. Had Steyn been available to slot in at flyhalf, I guess the temptation may have been to move Pienaar back to scrumhalf, but unless the coaching staff has strange ideas about trying Barritt at ten, it looks like the blonde speed-merchant will partner Pinie in the halfbacks. Expect young Ross Cronjé to be on the bench providing scrumhalf cover.
The centre combination is going to depend a lot on whether Jacobs is fit enough to play. I wouldn’t risk him as a starting option, whatever the case. Assuming all the barriers to Barritt being able to play are successfully negotiated, I’d pick the Sarries man at inside centre, with Riaan Swanepoel outside him. Jacobs would be on the bench as cover, together with either Strauss or Monty Dumond. I guess the smart money, though, would probably be on Jacobs taking up his place at outside centre with Swanepoel (or potentially even Barritt) the man to take the bench spot.
Here’s a possible line-up
1 Mtawarira, 2 B du Plessis, 3 Smit, 4 Sykes, 5 Muller (capt), 6 Botes, 7 Deysel, 8 Kankowski, 9 McLeod, 10 Pienaar, 11 Pietersen, 12 Barritt, 13 Swanepoel, 14 Ndungane, 15 Terblanche
16 J du Plessis, 17 Carstens, 18 van den Berg, 19 Daniel, 20 Cronje, 21 Strauss/Dumond, 22 Jacobs