I keep hearing that the Sharks are going to use the Lions game to assess the depth available in the province and try to unearth some fresh talent for the Currie Cup. If we’re going to do that, then let’s do that, but we as fans mustn’t get too upset if we end up losing the match – quite horribly – as a result.
There are few areas in the squad that could be considered “settled” – in fact, it’s only really the second row where we are likely to have our first-choice combination available to us not only for the Lions match, but also throughout the Currie Cup. There are a number of real questions that we need answered and the Lions match represents as good an opportunity to do that as any.
Up front, we’re likely to have Jannie du Plessis with us at tighthead, unless a Bok injury necessitates a call-up for him. The Sharks have no real shortage of quality props anyway and we know what Pat Cilliers, in particular, has to offer as a replacement. We could use the Lions match the assess the credentials of a number of the Vodacom Cup props, in particular young Wiehahn Herbst at tighthead and Sabelo Nhlapo on the other side. The other option – and one which may potentially be the most sensible – is to play Cilliers at loosehead, since we will need a quality player to own the number one jersey throughout the Currie Cup. Let’s give Pat a run at loosehead against quality opposition and see how he goes.
Hooker is another position where we need to understand exactly what the next rung of players looks like. Craig Burden simply must start the game, since we need to see if he has come on at all in the basic skills department since his unfortunate Super 14 run last year. Picking Skipper Badenhorst will accomplish absolutely nothing – we know what we have in him and it’s time for us to accept that he’s not the answer. Badenhorst could bench, but I’d rather see a bolter like young Dylan Rutherford picked in the number 16 jersey. We’d find out pretty quickly if he has what it takes at this level of the game.
Muller and Sykes will no doubt start at lock, but I’d like to see Joe Snyman given a run off the bench. The former SA age group star had a pretty useful Vodacom Cup and looks overdue for the big time. Jacques Botes and Keegan Daniel give us plenty of options on the open side but it’s at blindside and number 8 that we are definitely short of experience. Assuming Jean Deysel is available to play, we need to give someone like Warren Whiteley or maybe Mike Rhodes a run in Ryan Kankowski’s spot. Justin Downey’s ability to cover the entire back row must surely count in his favour when it comes to dishing out the number 19 jersey.
Scrumhalf is, of course, not a problem, with Rory Kockott and Charl McLeod the incumbents. Flyhalf, though, is a position where we simply do not have a clue about who our next best is and again, it’s imperative that we let somebody other then Monty Dumond have a proper run. Len Olivier’s share seem to have fallen alarmingly since arriving from the Valke in the off season, but I’d really expect him to be given a bench spot at least against the Lions. Young Guy Cronje and Pat Lambie, both Michaelhouse old boys, are the frontrunners for the number 10 jersey at this stage and it would be good to accommodate both in the match 22, if at all possible. Lambie, in particular, seems a very exciting talent indeed and he may just be the logical successor to Stefan Terblanche at fullback.
The centres are again a completely blank slate, with Riaan Swanepoel likely to feature, along with Andries Strauss, Ian Adendorff and Zuks Vulindlu. I would imagine that Trevor Halstead is probably also in the mix somewhere, but from what I’ve heard, his Vodacom Cup form wasn’t inspiring enough to suggest that the former Bok is likely to make a significant impact on the Currie Cup. Waylon Murray may finally be over his injury problems and this match would represent a good opportunity for the big Westville lad to show that he still has an appetite for big-time rugby. Should he be available, we can then use Vulindlu on the wing, which might just make a lot of sense given the dearth of quality out wide.
In fact, in the absence of JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane, the Sharks’ wing cupboard is alarmingly bare, with Lwazi Mvovo and Chris Jordaan the only real options. Danie Dames and Carl Bezuidenhout could also come into the picture.
If I were picking the team, this is what I’d go with. Bear in mind that I wouldn’t be expecting this outfit to actually beat the Lions, but would rather look at how the individuals stood up under pressure, against really top opposition.
1 Pat Cilliers, 2 Craig Burden, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 4 Steven Sykes, 5 Johann Muller (capt), 6 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jean Deysel, 8 Mike Rhodes, 9 Rory Kockott, 10 Guy Cronje, 11 Luzuko Vulindlu, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 13 Waylon Murray, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 15 Stefan Terblanche
16 Dylan Rutherford, 17 Sabelo Nhlapo, 18 Joe Snyman, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Len Olivier, 22 Pat Lambie