Losing out on contracting Lionel Mapoe is a pretty bitter blow indeed for the Sharks and the powers that be will need to have a proper think about what to do next. Whatever your opinion happens to be on the way the matter was handled, the fact is, from a rugby point of view, having Mapoe in the squad would have added much-needed depth in a problem position.
A few days ago we pointed out that much work has been done to bolster the inside back division. Fact is that without Mapoe, the Sharks do still appear a little thin when it comes to outside backs, particularly with a view to next year’s Super 15. While the outside centre position is well known to be a concern, without Mapoe, the Sharks are, if we’re to be honest, also not particularly well covered at wing.
I think there would be very little disagreement about JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo being the natural first-choice wingers in the team. Louis Ludik is shaping up as a really good fit at fullback as well, but outside of them, depth does start to become somewhat of an issue. I’m making the assumption that Stefan Terblanche will not play any sort of on-field role next year and it would appear that he is only really considered a centre now anyway, rather than a viable wing or fullback. Odwa Ndungane is the other guy who’s in the frame, but to be fair, while he’ll always be a reliable backup player, he seems to be showing his years a wee bit and might struggle to really make the desired impact in the Super 15. That leaves us with only Odwa to cover all three outside back positions – a worrying situation indeed.
Outside centre is, if possible, worse, with Adi Jacobs the most likely incumbent. Outside him, though, there simply isn’t anyone who has any senior experience in the position.
Now, what we’ve seen is that contracting players from other provinces can be fraught with peril even though the Sharks have won more of the legal battles than they’ve lost. The chances of picking up a player from outside of the KZN province in time for next year’s competition are not looking great, meaning that we may have to look within. Centre is a problem that would need to be resolved anyway and since Mapoe won’t now be able to add options in that position, it’s vital that the youngsters who have been identified already, namely Arno van Zyl and Piet Lindeque, are fast-tracked into the senior squad during the current Currie Cup. It’s a bit of a bugger that the squad captain is currently occupying that position, but I feel the Sharks will need to take some short-term pain here in order to prepare for next year.
The other option, of course, is to actually just let Jean Stemmet have a go with the Currie Cup side to see how he does. He’s a player that was brought in at the beginning of the season to help plug this very hole, yet to date he hasn’t been given any opportunities. Very unfair to consign a player to the scrap heap without a fair trial, but I guess the management must have their reasons.
Wing and fullback, though, are similarly going to require some adventurous selections and a bit of faith, with my star for the future, young Sibusiso Sithole, the guy I feel is most likely to be able to take the step up next year. He’s big and ridiculously fast and showed that he has a nose for the tryline in scoring some unbelievable tries at the IRB Junior World Championship. We also have Luzuko Vulindlu in the system, although he’s currently out with a knee injury and I think it would be fair to say that he’s a player who, though undoubtedly talented, has yet to deliver on his promise and repay the faith that the Sharks have placed in him. Outside centre is probably his best position, but he showed during the 2008 Super 14 that he can be a very good winger too.
Mark Richards is another player who has sublime skills on attack. My feeling is that he will gravitate towards the number 13 jersey in time as well, but if he’s going to provide wing cover in the Super 15, he should at least be given a shot in the Currie Cup to see how he adapts to the senior game. Richards could also do his bit at fullback, although his lack of stature may just count against him here. Wynand Pienaar is impressing for the under 21s in the last line of defence, while the man occupying the number 15 shirt for the under 19s, Jaco van Tonder, has already spent some time training with the senior squad and is a definite talent for the future.
Whatever the case, though, identification and nurturing of outside back talent should probably be very high on the Sharks’ agenda for the next few years. Unless, that is, Rudolf Straueli has another ace or two up his sleeve. Jongi Nokwe? Gerhard van den Heever? Jaco Taute?Tweet