With the Sharks coaching staff due to name the first Currie Cup team of the season later this week, the question on everybody’s lips seems to be this: “Which of the youngsters has done enough to force their way into the reckoning?”
The Sharks are in a position of uncertainty heading into the opening Currie Cup game, against Griquas in Kimberley this Saturday. A sub-standard Super 14 showing, coupled with a number of player departures, injuries and Bok call-ups have left the coaching staff in a very uncertain position when it comes to deciding on a match 22 to take the franchise forward. Many of the tried-and-tested campaigners have been found wanting this season, while a number of promising youngsters have put up their hands after good performances in the last two warmup games, albeit against sub-standard opposition.
We know that conservatism is John Plumtree’s watchword and, as such, it would be somewhat naive to expect any truly left-field selections when the team is named. We know that a fair number of the usual subjects will indeed be there; Steven Sykes, Jacques Botes, Keegan Daniel and Rory Kockott are pretty much guaranteed to occupy positions 4,6,8 and 9, while a number of other positions are pretty much cut-and-dried too. Pat Cilliers and Wiehahn Herbst will be the props, Craig Burden will be at hooker and Steve Meyer will probably be the flyhalf. Pat Lambie is a shoe-in for fullback, while Lwazi Mvovo and Riaan Swanepoel are very likely to be at wing and centre respectively.
Looking then to young talent, there are not all that many positions left up for grabs. The number 5 jersey will probably go to Alistair Hargreaves, although Ross Skeate should probably come into the reckoning as well. Anton Bresler has done well with the chances he’s been given and may be a surprise inclusion on the bench, depending on Skeate’s fitness and how quickly he can be integrated into the team setup. with both Jean Deysel and Willem Alberts out injured, Plumtree will have to look to one of Mike Rhodes or Justin Downey to fill the number 7 shirt, with the other likely to wear the number 19 shirt. Neither is exactly a youngster, but both have been on the fringes of the squad for some time and have played a role during the warm-up games. Kyle Cooper is another youngster who will get a chance off the bench, covering the hooking position.
Among the backs, it’s only really the outside centre position and one of the wing spots that are up for grabs. There are not a huge number of candidates lining up for the number 13 jersey and as much as I would love young Piet Lindeque to get a run, I have a nasty feeling that Stefan Terblanche will once again be named in that spot. Jean Stemmet seems to have fallen out of favour and is unlikely to feature at this stage. The one outsider who I feel has a realistic chance of cracking the 22 at the very least is Mark Richards, who despite his diminutive stature has impressed throughout the pre-season and was today mentioned by Grant Bashford in an article on the Sharks website as a standout performer. Louis Ludik is another name that must come into the reckoning, though, when it comes to the wing position.
If I had to predict the team for Saturday, it would look as follows. Predictably, precious few of the young players in the squad are likely to actually get onto the park.
15 Pat Lambie, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Stefan Terblanche (capt), 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Steve Meyer, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Mike Rhodes, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Pat Cilliers
16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Anton Bresler/Ross Skeate, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Monty Dumond, 22 Mark Richards