The Sharks decision to sign an experienced campaigner like Ross Skeate, despite seeming a little strange on the surface, actually looks to be a pretty shrewd move given the lack of battle-hardened tight forwards in the current Currie Cup squad.
Now anyone who reads my rants regularly will know that I’m generally the first one to cry foul when the powers that be in Durban opt to buy in an established player, rather than giving a young player the chance to shine. It’s certainly not the way that the Bulls do it and, to their credit, they somehow always seem to get the mix of experience and youth right in their team to avoid the “rabbit in the headlights” scenario that comes from having too many greenhorns all on the park at once. That said, pragmatism would probably dictate that it’s just downright silly to completely throw away any emphasis on results while attempting to (re)build a team around youth – with that in mind, it is probably pretty sensible to ensure a core of experienced players remains available to the team while bringing the young guys through.
The Sharks have been handed an unexpected boost by the availability of Beast Mtawarira for the duration of the Currie Cup, but on the other hand, have already lost the services of Bismarck du Plessis to injury, as well as John Smit, Jannie du Plessis and (possibly) Alistair Hargreaves to the Springbok squad. Add to that the departure of Johann Muller and you suddenly end up with a tight five that counts Steven Sykes (25) as the oldest and most battle-hardened forward in the picture. Despite all his experience, Beast is still only 24 himself and without anyone else to add composure and steel to that unit, the likes of Wiehahn Herbst, Craig Burden and Hargreaves (or Anton Bresler) will struggle to assert themselves against the Currie Cup’s finest. Gerard Mostert remains in the mix, of course, but backing the farm on his glass shoulder would appear to be a very risky move indeed. Making matters worse will be a tricky few rounds at the start of the competition where the Sharks will most likely need to make do without the services of both Jean Deysel and Willem Alberts; if we’ve seen one thing, it’s that you need a hell of a strong tight five in order for Keegan Daniel and Jacques Botes to work well in tandem!
The only real doubt I have left is the extent to which Skeate himself is the right man for this particular job. He’s certainly not the sort of player you would fit into the “hard bastard” category, but has been around the block a few times and has hopefully learned a trick or two in France. He is a pretty wiley operator in the lineouts and may well turn out to be a trump card in this area, particular considering that Craig Burden is still fine-tuning this aspect of his game.
My take on this one is to suspend my disbelief, just for a while and to hope that Ross Skeate turns out to be just the tonic the Sharks need to keep the pack ticking over. Now if only we could find a flyhalf and a couple of centres…Tweet