The Vodacom Cup gets under way this weekend, with the Sharks XV hosting Border in their opening clash, at 18h00 on Friday. For coach Sean Everitt and his team, it will be a superb opportunity to show that the next tier of rugby in KZN is alive and well.
While the Super 14 Sharks have stuttered to two unfortunate losses since starting their campaign a fortnight ago, the shadow Vodacom Cup squad have racked up two impressive victories in the same period and appear to be in fine form, despite the late “disruption” caused by some unexpected cuts from the the Sharks tour party.
If anything, Everett’s main challenge will be to integrate the four returning players who up until a week or so ago looked set to be on the Sharks antipodean tour. Managing the expectations of these guys, who are obviously all very disappointed at missing out, without disrupting the morale of what is already a pretty settled team, will be difficult indeed, but if there’s one man in the current KZN rugby setup who has a proven track record for man management, it is the likeable former Rovers head coach.
Looking at the likely team for the opening clash, it should be a very strong outfit by Vodacom Cup standards. Pat Cilliers is an Emerging Springbok, while Alistair Hargreaves has gone one better and played for the Bok midweek side. The other three members of the tight five, Kyle Cooper, Wiehahn Herbst and Jandre Marais have all represented South Africa at age-group level. The loose forwards are all pretty big and powerful, perfect for the new counter-rucking game – Justin Downey should wear the number 6 jersey, with Lambert Groenewald and another Baby Bok, Luvuyiso Lusaseni at blindside and number 8 respectively.
Charl McLeod and Monty Dumond formed an effective and exciting halfback combination for the Sharks for large portions of last year’s Currie Cup season and the pair should expect to be reunited in the Sharks XV on Friday, with another stalwart, Andries Strauss, completing a hugely experienced attacking axis. Jean Stemmet, an off-season signing from Maties, whom he represented in last year’s Varsity Cup should be at outside centre, while Zuks Vulindlu and try machine Mark Richards will join fullback Chris Jordaan in a pacey back three.
The depth in the squad is such that there should be a strong bench too, including the likes of Mike Rhodes, Skollie Ndlovu, Ross Cronjé and exciting young centre Jerome Pretorius.
Probable Sharks XV:
1 Pat Cilliers, 2 Kyle Cooper, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 4 Jandre Marais, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 6 Justin Downey, 7 Lambert Groenwald, 8 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 9 Charl McLeod, 10 Monty Dumond, 11 Mark Richards, 12 Andries Strauss (capt), 13 Jean Stemmet, 14 Luzuko Vulindlu, 15 Chris Jordaan.