In the interests of continuity and form, I feel it is critical that John Plumtree and the Sharks coaching staff resist the temptation to include Ruan Pienaar in the Sharks starting team for this weekend’s crunch game against the Cheetahs.
The main reasons for this are simple and really have everything to do with Charl McLeod and the team dynamics, rather than any personal issue against Pienaar (for the record, I don’t have any with him!). Since the dual malaise of bad ball protection and slow service killed the Sharks in the second half of the opening loss to Griquas, much work was done to correct both problems against the Bulls. While the loose forwards (and the pack as a whole) played much better to ensure better ball against the Bulls, it was the inclusion of McLeod at scrumhalf that sorted out the second problem and ensured that the backline were kept on the front foot virtually all game.
If reports are to be believed, even if the forwards reverted to type against the Pumas, McLeod nevertheless battled manfully to salvage what he could and apart from scoring a typically opportunistic try, was one of the few Sharks players to stand out in an otherwise woeful team performance. He is a guy that has played fantastically every time he’s been given the starting jersey, only to be summarily dropped every time one of the “stars” returns. This needs to stop now, to my mind. McLeod has established himself as the first-choice scrumhalf on the back of his performances. If Pienaar wants the jersey, he’ll have to take it by proving that he’s in better nick.
It’s unlikely to happen, though, for two reasons. Firstly, the latest “Bok injection” is likely to be a short-lived one, with Pienaar et al odds-on to be summoned back to the Boks camp after the Lions game next weekend. Furthermore, although the player himself has refused to confirm it, it’s an open secret that Pienaar will be on his way to Ulster at the end of October, meaning that any opportunity to develop further depth in this position must be taken now, with a view to the Super 15 next year. Rory Kockott appears to have fallen out of favour and outside of McLeod, the Sharks look drastically thin when it comes to decent scrumhalves, especially given Ross Cronje’s injury woes. Playing Pienaar is a short-term band-aid that does nothing to address the real issue.
Mtawarira and Kankowski are different, as I feel both players can be brought into the pack to give it a short-term boost against the Cheetahs and Lions. While it will be unfair to drop Keegan Daniel on form, the situation at prop is more clear-cut, with Beast’s immense value hard to overlook. Ryan Kankowski is also a superb player who has shown that he can also do a job at blindside flank if required. While combinations and familiarity are still important amongst the forwards, I feel that you can get away with mixing and matching on a game by game basis up front. Tinkering with your 9-10-12 axis, however, is a no-no, especially if you’ve finally stumbled unto a good combination and need to give it time to settle.
McLeod, Steve Meyer and Pat Lambie are the guys to take the Sharks forward in this Currie Cup and we need to keep that unit together for as many games as possible.Tweet