Since hunting (or is that poaching?) season seems well and truly under way, my feeling is that the Sharks really should be looking at boosting their depth in the centrers. While my information is that efforts are ongoing to secure the services of Jean de Villiers, I reckon it would make a lot of sense for the Sharks to take a serious look at a player like the Lions’ Walter Venter.
Don’t get me wrong – I feel that de Villiers would be a hugely successful signing if the Sharks did manage to pull it off, but the real value in landing a big fish like that is more in terms of marketing and the associated “feel good factor” that comes from having such a household name play in your colours. A little like the surprise signings of bob Skinstad and Percy Montgomery a few years ago, de Villiers would implicitly send a signal that all is right again in Sharks land and may even attract other players to look at the Union with fresh eyes.
In terms of bang for buck, though, Jean de Villiers would be a very expensive luxury. As a shoe-in for the World Cup squad (unless he manages to somehow miss his third one through injury) it’s safe to assume that he would play no Currie Cup rugby this season, as well as being “carefully managed” through the inaugural Super 15 competition next year. None of the World Cup Boks are signing anything that extends past next year anyway, so again safe to assume that de Villiers will be off to Europe again the moment the dust settles on the 2011 season. Walter Venter, while a solid, experienced player in his own right, is unlikely to cost anywhere near what de Villiers would and since he isn’t currently anywhere near the Bok squad, could quickly establish himself as a core member of the Sharks Currie Cup (and Super 15) team.
Venter is widely rumoured to be unhappy in Joburg anyway, with Doppies la Grange regularly preferred at inside centre. A slew of new signings over the past year, including Deon van Rensburg, Alwyn Hollenbach, Marius Delport and most recently Waylon Murray means that Venter is equally unlikely to see game time at outside centre for the Lions and it would make sense for him to move to a team desperately in need of creative midfield backs. Regularly topping the tackle stats for the Lions this season, he is ultra-reliable on defence, but it’s his skill with ball in hand that could be most beneficial to the Sharks. As a relatively senior player (at the ripe old age of 25) he could also assist in grooming younger players on either side of him, such as Guy Cronje at flyhalf and Jean Stemmet at outside centre. Pretty much a no-lose situation for the Sharks.
Venter has, to all intents and purposes, been properly stuffed around by the Lions administration and a succession of coaches over the last few seasons. A born-and-bred Joburg boy, he could become just the latest in a long line of talent to find a new lease on life in Durban, after being regularly overlooked in his home town. Jean Deysel, Rory Kockott, Willem Alberts… the list of former Lions plying their trade in Durban is a long one and they do seem to fit in better and stay longer than the Free State boys. Come on, Sharks – go get Walter Venter! I have a feeling he could really bring our backline to life.Tweet