Forgive me if I interrupt the doom and gloom for just a second here. If the Sharks do go on to struggle in this year’s Super 14, it certainly won’t be due to a lack of firepower upfront! I think we at times tend to get so carried away with the introspection that we forget just what an exciting and talented squad we have.The Sharks forwards have always been a factor in this Super 14 – it just seems to be the sort of competition that favours our fatties. Last year we struggled when Jean Deysel got injured and we lost the balance in the loose trio as a result, but the signs are there that Plum and co have learned from this particular mistake, at least. I’m not one to believe for a second that the acquisition of one player can really turn a team around, but let’s not kid ourselves here; getting Willem Alberts to the Tank is simply huge!
In the front row department, we still have four recent Bok props available in Beast Mtawarira, Deon Carstens, John Smit and Jannie du Plessis. Potentially more exciting, though, is the emergence of some young talent to keep the older guard on their toes. Management of the workload of these senior players is going to be key after the demands of 2009. Wiehahn Herbst and Pat Cilliers (hopefully playing more at loosehead) will have crucial roles to play in this year’s squad and I hope to see a fair bit of rotation in the front row. We have lots of good options at prop and it’s an area where attrition can be a big factor. It’s crucial to use our depth to good advantage here.
Hooker is always going to be about the Smit versus Bismarck debate and with Joe Muller rumoured to be carrying a slight niggle into the season, perhaps we might yet get our greatest wish and see the Bok captain leading the Sharks into battle once more. There’s enough that needs to be done this season to ensure that Smit can start every game, either at prop or hooker, without du Plessis losing out unnecessarily. When Smit starts in the number 2 jersey, Bismarck can be on the bench, while we can also have Smit at 3, Bismarck at 2 and Craig Burden coming into the number 16 jersey when the situation demands it. The former winger adds a hugely dynamic influence when coming on and the Sharks would be foolish not to utilise this factor in 2010.
In the second row, the acquisition of Gerhardt Mostert is a big one, although Albert van den Berg has finally been put out to pasture. Alistair Hargreaves will need to step up and play the role of starting lock on occasion this year and Muller’s gametime is managed far more conservatively. Steven Sykes and Mostert will bear the brunt of the workload, while Mike Rhodes’s 1.97m frame will surely be utilised in the second row on occasion as well.
The talk, though, will invariably be about the loose forward combination and the question on everybody’s minds right now is how Ryan Kankowksi and Willem Alberts can be accommodated in a loose trio that already contains a superb number 7 in Jean Deysel. Moving Deysel across to the open side may well work against some opposition, but his lack of pace may well become a factor in the number 6 jersey. Jacques Botes will need to turn back the clock to rediscover his best form, or else lose the number 6 jersey to one of Keegan Daniel (always a good Super 14 player) or Skholiwe Ndlovu. Rhodes – impressive at 7 at times during the Currie Cup – and last year’s form player from the under 21s Luvo Lusaseni will add additional pressure to the trio of Deysel, Kankowski and Alberts and ensure that everyone is kept on their toes.
Lots of options and many possible combinations, capable of playing a number of different games. We’ve got the bruisers up front to play a very forward-oriented game if required, but also have a breathtaking contingent of gamebreakers, including Beast, Burden, Mostert, Daniel and Kankowski, that can up the tempo when required.
Say what you like, but I think, up front at least, the Sharks are looking very good this season.Tweet