While post-match statements attributed to Sharks coach John Plumtree would appear to suggest sweeping changes to the Sharks team to face the Pumas on Friday night, the coach would be wise to cool his heels a little before making any rash decisions to drop the core of his “complacent” squad.
The reasons here are twofold. Firstly, as a result of an injury or two, as well as a few belated call-ups to the Bok conditioning program, we’re going to lose a few guys anyway and have to make some changes. Plum is going to find his resources stretched like never before in this campaign, particularly upfront. The other concerning factor is that the Pumas are no pushovers, as the Bulls discovered two weeks ago. The Sharks struggled to beat them in Durban and sending anything even vaguely resembling a weakened side to Witbank (or Nelspruit, or wherever) to play these guys on Friday night could lead to the unthinkable.
The loss to the Bulls was a setback, but not a tragedy. Losing to the Pumas would throw the campaign into complete disarray and Plumtree, to my mind, needs to be pragmatic here. Securing five points on Friday night is the first and only goal for me. Any players needing to be taught a lesson about complacency will, of necessity, enjoy a stay of execution as I don’t feel Plum currently has the depth in his squad to really make the lesson stick.
Looking at the team, we’re going to be forced to pitch Pat Cilliers straight back into the cauldron of Currie Cup rugby from the club ranks and it’s not going to make life any easier knowing that he’ll be up against the 400kg Ronnie Uys either. Cilliers is believed to have fallen out of favour with the coaches a little of late due to perceived weaknesses in his scrumming technique. He’ll need to show this weekend that those concerns are unfounded. Making matters worse – at least from a scrum stability point of view – is that he won’t have an experienced scrumming hooker next to him, as Craig Burden looks set to come back in for Bismarck du Plessis. That’s already two forced changes to the tight five and to my mind, that means Plum simply cannot afford to tinker with his lock pairing and give a hungry youngster like Anton Bresler a start in this game. A further change will need to come at 8, with Keegan Daniel unlikely to be fit, but there is a silver lining here in that Ryan Kankowski should be able to slot straight back in.
It’s the backs that were perhaps the most disappointing on Saturday, though and with Rory Kockott not doing anything to put pressure on Charl McLeod, expect the number 9 jersey to remain on the Wonderboom lad’s back. Plumtree may want to give Pat Lambie a rest, following a poor showing, but I would resist the temptation. Flyhalves need to grow and settle and you simply cannot drop a guy after a single mediocre performance. Andre Pretorius, to my mind, did little at Loftus to prove that he deserves more than another bench spot.
If anything, changes further out should be limited to a bit of tinkering, with Riaan Swanepoel doing enough to take back the number 12 jersey from Dries Strauss. A fair amount will depend on whether Louis Ludik is fit (and back three depth is now becoming a huge issue), but I feel the Sharks can’t afford to continue with Monty Dumond at fullback. Ludik in for Monty in a straight swap, if the former is fit, but should the former Lion not be ready, I’d move Odwa Ndungane to the back, let Stef Terblanche play wing and bring in a keen youngster like Piet Lindeque to have a go in the number 13 jersey.
Whatever the case, the Sharks have certainly complicated their lives by giving away the Pretoria points and will need to come out firing and put in a strong performance against the Pumas on Friday night to get things back on track.Tweet