“Well now,” sighed John Plumtree as he pondered the team composition for this weekend’s game, “this is going to be tough!”Wow, but haven’t the Sharks done well? I’m sure few of us, having cast an eye over the ragtag bunch of names available at the start of the Currie Cup, would ever have anticipated that they’d be sitting pretty at the top of the table by the time the Springboks returned. Sure, there have been some pretty diabolical implosions from a lot of other teams along the way, not to mention the fact that Province have spanked us soundly both home and away. That said, it’s been a pretty successful campaign so far.
Plumtree will be the first to tell you, though, that the team has won nothing yet, a lesson learned all too painfully in the Super 14. Top spot on the log means nothing three quarters of the way through the round-robin phase and although it would take a truly astounding capitulation to see the Sharks miss out on a home semi from here, it’s by no means impossible, nor without precedent.
The challenge, of course, is to make the right changes in the right way in order to not disrupt the winning momentum, while ensuring that we ease our Bok players back in time for the play-offs. Only JP Pietersen is currently out injured, meaning that Plumtree should, in theory, have no fewer nine Springbok players at his disposal this weekend to add to his squad.
Before the Bulls game, I would have suggested that we bring in reinforcements in theo front row for this weekend and leave the rest of the team as is. Then again, Deon Carstens and Pat Cilliers did a fantastic job against an (admittedly pathetic) Bulls front row that it would seem unfair to drop them. Certainly Beast Mtawarira and John Smit probably shouldn’t be rushed into action at this stage, but Jannie du Plessis must be just aching to get get some game time, so I’d start him, at least, against a potent Cheetahs pack. Johann Muller, too, should come back in and I’d be quite happy to see Ryan Kankowski and Bismarck du Plessis used as bench options, just for insurance.
Replacing Juan Hernandez at pivot just isn’t an option at the moment and as much as I hate to say it, Ruan Pienaar is going to have to make do with a bench spot this week as well, although I wouldn’t hesitate in brining Adi Jacobs in for Andries Strauss and Odwa Ndungane for Chris Jordaan.
The most important bit of continuity, though, is to make sure that Stefan Terblanche continues to wear the captain’s armband.
Here’s the team that I would pick this week:
1 Carstens, 2 Burden, 3 J du Plessis, 4 Sykes, 5 Muller, 6 Botes, 7 Deysel, 8 Daniel, 9 McLeod, 10 Hernandez, 11 Mvovo/Murray, 12 Swanepoel, 13 Jacobs, 14 Ndungane, 15 Terblanche (capt)
16 B du Plessis, 17 Cilliers, 18 van den Berg, 19 Kankowski, 20 Kockott, 21 Pienaar, 22 Murray/StraussTweet