I must say, I really wasn’t expecting to have Ruan Pienaar back in the Sharks selection mix ahead of this weekend’s game. Along with a (hopefully) fit-again Adi Jacobs, a lot of the doom and gloom surrounding the Sharks backline permutations is starting to lift.
The key here is to manage Pienaar conservatively, as I’m sure the coaches realise. He is going to be absolutely crucial to the success of the campaign and rushing him into action against the Chiefs if he’s not 100% ready will be counter-productive. That said, with only 6 home games this season, the Sharks really do need to pull out all the stops to ensure maximum points against the Chiefs. That’s right, guys – if we’re going to make the semis, we need a bonus point from every home game, starting with the first one.
I guess there will always be the temptation to play conservatively in the opener, particularly given that the high humidity in Durban will make handling difficult. Given that Pienaar is unlikely to be a starting option at this stage, John Plumtree will need start with either Monty Dumond or Steve Meyer at flyhalf, with the former perhaps the better option in the first half, provided he can use his boot to keep the Chiefs pinned in their own half. The Sharks have the pack to play ten-man rugby and do it well and perhaps this is the approach we should use against the Chiefs this weekend, given that the conditions are unlikely to favour expansive rugby.
We know which way the Chiefs will play and perhaps the conditions, coupled with their notoriously poor early-season form, will play right into the Sharks hands – providing plenty of mistakes on which the hosts must capitalise.
With Deon Carstens and Jacques Botes also both fit, the Sharks can select a bench literally packed with game-breakers and after softening the Chiefs up with a forward-orientated onslaught in the first hour, should look to open things up in the last 20, chasing the try bonus if it hasn’t already been scored. Players like Keegan Daniel, Craig Burden, Jacobs and Pienaar will be instrumental in making that happen.
Possible Sharks 22:
15 Terblanche, 14 Ndungane, 13 Murray, 12 Swanepoel, 11 Pietersen, 10 Dumond, 9 Kockott, 8 Kankowski, 7 Deysel, 6 Botes, 5 Muller, 4 Sykes, 3 Smit (capt), 2 B du Plessis, 1 Mtawarira
16 Burden, 17 Carstens, 18 Mostert, 19 Daniel, 20 McLeod, 21 Pienaar, 22 Jacobs