After the elation of two wins in New Zealand has subsided somewhat, it’s time to take a good look at the Sharks’ prospects for the Reds game this weekend – as well as the remainder of the season.
We already know that we need to add Adi Jacobs’ name to the list of long-term casualties – a list that already includes fullback Louis Ludik and locks Gerhard Mostert and Johann Muller – while Deon Carstens and Keegan Daniel should be out for shorter periods. It’s not a terrible injury list, all-in-all and apart from exposing the side’s lack of depth at centre, John Plumtree will probably feel that he’s got off relatively lightly after seven weeks.
With John Smit operating at loosehead, the Sharks scrum looks as dominant as you’d expect a unit containing that many Bok front-rankers to be. While some doubts might linger over the du Plessis brothers’ discipline, one has to say that both have cleaned up their respective acts substantially over the last few weeks and having players of the calibre of Beast Mtawarira and Craig Burden in reserve is a decent luxury to have. That’s not even considering the promising young Wiehahn Herbst or even Carstens, who will probably be back soon.
Alistair Hargreaves had a pretty useful game against the Hurricanes, particularly in the lineouts and the doubts about his suitability for this level of the game are steadily being erased, at least in my book. A plethora of talented loose forwards, most of whom are now in form (it took Jacques Botes a while to get there, but he was superb last week) completes the picture and it would take a brave man to bet against the Sharks forwards going from strength to strength in this competition and establishing themselves as one of the most dominant units as the season draws to a close.
As always, it’s at the back that things get more complicated. The two clearly in-form players, Ruan Pienaar and Pat Lambie, are both, ironically, far too versatile and while scrumhalf and fullback respectively appear to be the best suited positions for the pair, that does leave a huge problem at flyhalf, a spot that either could potentially fill. To say that Andy Goode has been underwhelming thus far would probably be fair and outside of him, only Monty Dumond remains a credible option. We still have no confirmation as to whether Goode will even be allowed to play (work permit issues) making the temptation to either Pienaar or Lambie at fullback far more pressing.
I’m on record as stating that I feel Lambie should be tried at flyhalf and I stick by that, although I can clearly see the benefits of allowing him to settle at fullback as well. More pressing is the need to find an outside centre to replace Jacobs – one that will result in a somewhat more dynamic partnership than Riaan Swanepoel and Waylon Murray can currently offer. The Sharks may well have to think out of the box here – either bringing in a youngster, or possibly moving Odwa Ndungane (or even Stefan Terblanche) into the vacant number 13 jersey. Whatever backline permutations comes up, one travesty that simply has to be rectified in the coming weeks is the continued exclusion of Lwazi Mvovo from the match 22.
It’s not looking too bad, all-in-all and there’s no reason to fear that the Sharks shouldn’t be able to build on the last two weeks and finish in the top half of the draw. Finding a backline combination that works and that can take us forward to 2011 and beyond is a clear pre-requisite, though and those decisions need to be taken in the next few days.Tweet