I note with some amusement that the Sharks are now facing a “second row crisis”, according to some reports. This, of course, in the wake of Johann Muller’s anticipated departure to Ulster after the Super 14.
I find it quite strange too that Muller is so widely derided by the supposedly all-knowing greater rugby community -only for his departure to go on and spark a crisis. If he’s that bad, surely we’d be better off without him? It seems in this era of rock star second rowers, a workhorse like Muller is only appreciated by those who know him best – his team mates in the tight five.
More to the point, though – anyone who is concerned about the second row depth in Durban needs to look a little deeper. Any talk of hasty purchases to bolster the second row depth need to be put aside, as the Sharks have more than enough talent in the system to ensure that numbers 4 and 5 should not be a problem for years to come. Although the loss of Muller, a stalwart and former Bok captain who has represented the Sharks for almost ten years, will always be felt, new acquisition Gerhard Mostert will push hard this Super 14 for a regular starting spot, perhaps even at Muller’s expense. The 25-year-old was one of the few Sharks players to really shine during the disappointing Neo Africa Tri-Series and appears to finally be fit and ready to challenge once more for higher honours – his only representative caps to date were for the Baby Boks in 2005.
The stand-out second row forward for the Sharks in 2009, though, was another 25-year old, who gained SA Under 19 honours in 2003 and was unlucky to miss out on a Bok cap last year, being called on to the bench for the third test against the Lions. Steven Sykes can’t have been far from the Sharks overall most valuable (as well as most improved) player last year and after spending a number of years trying to fight his way out of the immense shadow of one Johan Ackermann, seems to have finally dispelled the doubts about his ability to mix it up with the best of them. Sykes has an impressive turn of pace for such a big man and scored some lovely tries last year, but is not one to shy away from the rough stuff. I remember AJ Venter telling me some years ago that Sykes was the guy he had earmarked to take over his “enforcer” role in the Sharks pack.
When we look at the next tier, though, we start to appreciate exactly how much depth there is available, starting with the latest Bok in the ranks, Alistair Hargreaves. Hargs boasts an impressive junior pedigree, representing South Africa at under 19 level in both 2004 and 2005 (the year he was captain) as well as gaining caps for the under 21 side in 2006. A few years in the playing wilderness seem to have been brought to an end when he received a surprise call-up to join the Bok tour squad for last year’s end-of-year tour. A captain and leader through-and-through, Hargreaves, who turns 24 in April, will know that 2010 is the year in which he will need to step up and claim the number 5 jersey – and possibly the captain’s armband – for his own.
His window of opportunity will not stay open for long; a pair of tall brothers from Welkom, themselves both Baby Bok representatives, will be eager to make their mark on senior rugby in the not-too-distant future. Jandre and Peet Marais, who have the potential to form a dynamite combination, are also in the wider group and the older Jandre, in particular, was in fine form for the Sharks XV and Sharks under 21 side in 2009. His regular partner, Anton Bresler, is a number 5 with a nose for the tryline, while there are a number of other players on the fringes of the squad who could help out in the second row if required- Mike Rhodes and Luvo Lusaseni among them. The latter played for the Baby Boks in 2008.
The list goes one, of course. In addition to the younger Marais, another two Sharks under 19 locks are currently in the junior Bok picture. Kene Okafor missed out on selection for the tour to France that leaves this week as a result of passport issues, but is sure to be in the picture when the side to contest the 2010 IRB Junior World Cup is named. It will be Okafor’s second appearance at the tournament, having been capped in 2009. Big Johan Schoonbie, all 2.06 metres of him, will definitely be making the trip to France and is determined that he will be on the plane for Argentina later this year as well.
So let’s just do a quick count… outside of Muller, the Sharks have no fewer than 8 second rowers in the system who have played for South Africa at age-group level, as well as Rhodes and Bresler. Perhaps those prophesying doom and gloom should do their research first!Tweet