The Sharks coaching staff will get an ideal opportunity to test the depth of their talent pool when they meet the British and Irish Lions in Durban next Wednesday.
The Sharks will be missing 10 players to the Springbok training squad, but will welcome their five Emerging Boks for the fourth match on the B&I Lions’ 10-game trip.
Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford agrees that missing that many players is a drain on resources.
“Losing 10 players is obviously an issue,” Bashford said on the Sharks website.
“While it’s great for them, and hard for us, it is an opportunity for others coming into the squad.
“These are youngsters coming in or guys that sat on the bench a lot in the Super 14 who will get an opportunity to play in the frontline, so that’s good.
“What’s been positive is that the youngsters have come in really nicely in the trials and added a bit of competitiveness and it’s just good to have some youth around. The guys are full of energy, the break did them the world of good and the Super 14 is now truly behind us and we’re looking forward to what’s up ahead.”
On Monday and Tuesday, an extended squad played out various scenarios, giving the coaching staff the opportunity to assess the depth and there were a number who caught the eye and were asked to return after the squad was cut.
Of the players to have impressed, Patrick Lambie and Guy Cronjé are the mots notable.
“Patrick covers a few areas – he’s played fullback for SA Schools for two years and has played at centre and flyhalf at our trials, it’s an area we’re looking to see what depth we have in the province, but he certainly ran really well at fullback. Guy is another No.10, so we’re just looking at all our options.
“We have a number of versatile backs,” he continued.
The Lions match will afford a number of players to push for places in the Currie Cup squad – especially in the absence of the Springboks, who will be away on national duty against the Lions, as well as New Zealand and Australia for the Tri-Nations.
“For us it’s a wonderful opportunity, and we want to get out there and play,” he admits.
“We don’t want to be conservative because most of us won’t ever get the opportunity to be involved against the Lions again so it’s just important for us to go out there and play well, that’s the goal.
“Regardless of scoreline, we’re going to go out there and have a go, play some entertaining and enterprising rugby and see what depth we have in the province.”
Shifting focus to the opposition, Bashford is well-aware of the threat posed by the touring Lions side who come off a 74-10 win over the Golden Lions earlier this week.
“I certainly think that they would have walked away with a lot more confidence than they took into that game,” he said.
“And I think the local Lions will feel really disappointed, it looked that they have certainly dropped a notch from their Super 14 side – and there weren’t a whole lot of changes from the Super 14 – which will be very different to us.
“I’m sure the British Lions will take a lot of positives out of their game, every time they had the ball it looked like something was going to happen; defensively they put them under a lot of pressure with that rush defence which is something we’ll have to take into account as well. It’s just an awesome opportunity to play against the Lions, a British & Irish Lions tour wherever you go is exciting and the country builds itself up for it and we’re really looking forward to it.”
He agrees that this is a team that demands a lot of respect.
“I think with a Lions tour, you have to respect them, they’re all Internationals and not just from one country either, the depth in their squad is huge, and against the local Lions, there may have been a few players not in the initial Test squad who might have asked a few questions.
“I also believe they will improve with each game; the first match was a bit of a dog show, against the Lions they played really well, I think they will up their game on Saturday against the Cheetahs and by the time they get to us they will have been together for a few weeks with some game time under their belts and more time to analyse the opposition, so we are under no illusions that it is going to be really, really tough but it’s going to be an awesome opportunity for our youngsters to get in there and have a go.”
He believes that the experience within The Sharks’ pack will stand in their favour, “and for the youngsters in the backline with the inexperience, the challenge will be there for them, but a good opportunity for us to sit back and see what depth we have.”
Courtesy of Rugby 365Tweet