With the news that Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis are set to extend their stay at the Sharks (even though it’s only because they’ve seemingly exhausted all other avenues), the Sharks look like having the sort of squad that could really challenge for Super 14 honours next year.
The front row has long been the heart of the Sharks’ forward power, with a quartet of Bok props in Beast Mtawarira, John Smit, Deon Carstens and Jannie du Plessis on the books. Although rumours continue to abound that Carstens may well be lost ahead of the 2010 season, the likes of Pat Cilliers (at loosehead) and Wiehahn Herbst should provide adequate cover in the front row, particularly with the 8-man bench looming. Bismarck du Plessis will have the impressive Craig Burden, who has taken huge strides in this year’s Currie Cup, as his backup, with young Kyle Cooper also keen to take the step up to senior rugby in 2010.
The situation could have been so different had the Bethlehem brothers opted to leave. The prospect of a front-row containing Smit at hooker and Herbst at tighthead – or Smit at 3 with Burden in the number 2 shirt – is not a good one at Super 14 level, particularly if you consider what the bench options would look like in those cases. There is plenty of young talent but as we’ve seen in the Currie Cup, not all of those young guys are quite ready to be thrust into the cauldron of Super 14 rugby just yet.
In the second row, it’s quite possible that Big Albert will finally bow out at the end of this season, but in Johann Muller, Steven Sykes and the newly signed Gerhardt Mostert, the Sharks look to have a second row capable of providing a good platform both in the scrums and the lineouts. Alistair Hargreaves will continue to develop as well, as will Mike Rhodes, who looks a good option coming off the bench to provide a higher tempo game in the second row. Looking at the younger crop, Jandré Marais is a player with a bright future who has done it all at age-group level and will look to make strides in the senior team in 2010.
Loose forward remains a headache of sorts, though. When asked about his squad ahead of the Super 14, Johm Plumtree acknowledged to yours truly that he is short of an experienced big loosie and that procurement was underway – presumably referring to the long-rumoured acquisition of Lions number 8 Willem Alberts. Sharksworld understands that that deal is definitely on the cards, but may well be caught up in contractual red tape just the way Jaque Fourie’s move to Western Province has been. In Jean Deysel and Ryan Kankowski, the Sharks have the makings of a superb loose trio, while Jacques Botes and Keegan Daniel have both shown themselves able to deliver the goods at Super 14 level. The former is getting on a bit, though and although he will definitely still be in the picture in 2010, it’s vital that the Sharks start to make up their minds about who his long-term successor is. Keegan Daniel has never looked as good at 6 as he has at the back of the scrum, while Skollie Ndlovu has had limited opportunities to impress. Justin Downey may just prove to be the man that Plumtree has earmarked for the openside role going forward and one would hope that he’d be given the opportunity to settle in this position in 2010 if that is indeed Plumtree’s plan. Alberts, should he arrive, will add a huge number of options to the mix. Let’s also not forget Warren Whiteley, the impressive Vodacom Cup number 8 who is just the latest in a long line of players to be loaned out to Eastern Province.
To say that there is an embarrassment of riches at halfback would be a gross understatement and the challenge, as always, will be to figure out how to keep all of Ruan Pienaar, Rory Kockott, Juan Hernandez, Charl McLeod, Monty Dumond and the two Cronjés happy, motivated and fit, while still maintaining continuity in the attacking axis. The loss of Frans Steyn, described by Plumtree as a “freak”, will be felt, but Riaan Swanepoel has come through with flying colours and together with Adi Jacobs, Waylon Murray and an on-fire Andries Strauss should provide options aplenty in midfield.
The first-choice back three is an ageing unit, with only JP Pietersen the right side of 25, but Stefan Terblanche and Odwa Ndungane still have plenty of rugby left in them and will show the benefit of wise heads. It will be key to use the pace and enthusiasm of Lwazi Mvovo and Luzuko Vulindlu to good effect within the framework established by the three veterans, though. Louis Ludick is another superb player from the Lions who should, contractual issues permitting, add a huge amount of variety to the back three, while the secret weapon may just turn out to be the 19 year-old Patrick Lambie, who is just too good not to use in next year’s Super 14.
All-in-all, not looking too bad at all. Thanks for staying, Bis and Jannie. Now there’s some serious work to do.Tweet