With a serious injury to Ryan Kankowski and a potential ban for Jannie du Plessis looming as the cost of victory over the Reds, John Plumtree is going to need to make some changes against the Lions. Will the coach show that he is learning from the Pat Lambie experiment and back the youngsters to deliver for him?
Starting from the front and working back, Wiehahn Herbst is the logical replacement for du Plessis in the squad and the young man is simply itching to play Super 14 rugby. He’s sat on the bench and toured with the side, but is yet to make his on-field debut and I believe that a straight swap here would make the most sense. John Smit is looking comfortable at loosehead and I would seriously advise against any attempt to move him back to the other side of the scrum. The other possibility is to move Deon Carstens in at 3, assuming he is fit, but I have had no recent news regarding his injury. Carstens, to my mind, has always been a makeshift tighthead at best and is far better on the loosehead side of the scrum.
Looking further back, Willem Alberts has been a revelation over the last two weeks and is a no-brainer to take over the number 8 jersey from Kankowski, with Jean Deysel coming in at 7. Alberts made an astounding 23 tackles against the Reds and seemed to cross the advantage line virtually at will; he gives the Sharks pack plenty of go-forward and working in tandem with Deysel and an in-form Jacques Botes, the loose forward combination looks superb. Keegan Daniel looks set to come back into the squad this weekend, but I must say I’m nervous about not having a bigger loose forward on the bench as cover, in case either Alberts or Deysel is forced off. As often as we’ve tried it, the Daniel-Botes combination simply does not work and with Mike Rhodes yet again battling injury, Justin Downey is the man who surely HAS to come into the reckoning now. Downey is in the same boat as Herbst, having toured down under with the Sharks and sat on the bench, without actually gaining a Super 14 cap. His versatility in being able to cover all three positions in the back row should swing this one in his favour.
Amongst the backs, while there may not have been any further injuries this week, it is blatantly clear that the Sharks are short of options in midfield. For this reason, to my mind we should be looking very closely at the younger guys in the Vodacom Cup team, such as Jean Stemmet and Jerome Pretorius. Neither Riaan Swanepoel nor Dries Strauss are looking the part at inside centre, while Stefan Terblanche is a makeshift 13. It’s crucial that we start bringing the younger guys through, get them practising with the seniors and give them a little gametime – off the bench initially – in order to see what they can do. Perhaps, like Lambie, a Stemmet, Pretorius or Mvovo can add that spark that the Sharks backs seem to be missing right now.
Whatever the case, this Friday’s Vodacom Cup game against the Mighty Elephants is going to be a huge one for all of the above-mentioned guys. Let’s hope they come through well and put in the sorts of performances that will force the coach’s hand.Tweet