Somewhat predictably, a particular rugby journalist who just happens to have close ties to the Free State Rugby Union, has taken the opportunity to stick the knife in just a little deeper regarding the Lionel Mapoe ruling. The Sharks are, apparently, on the verge of a “wing crisis” as a result of judge Corne van Zyl’s decision that Mapoe must return to Bloemfontein.
There aren’t really any particularly new developments, here; simply the fact that Mapoe must leave, coupled with a large offer on the table (from the Lions) for the services of JP Pietersen. This is something that we have known about for some time and reported on before. Newspapers love to create crises, don’t they? For the Sharks, it’s pretty important to quickly put this Mapoe debacle to bed and look to the future.
I see this one as a similar situation to the supposed “lock crisis” that was spoken about during the Super 14, when the Sharks, despite having 8 former SA age group second rowers in their system, were alleged to have no depth in the second row. The reality is that we have just as much good wing talent floating around in the system and there really isn’t a huge amount of cause for concern.
Don’t get me wrong – the Sharks MUST do whatever possible to hang onto Pietersen. He is a key member of our team and has been well treated in the past, so I don’t believe he would necessarily want to leave, unless the prospect of working more closely with Dick Muir, coupled with a lot more money, persuades him. The Sharks, though, having saved on the Million-plus Rand a year that Mapoe would have earned, should presumably have a wee bit more budget on hand to retain JP. Coupled with hat is the fact that Dick Muir does hardly any hands-on coaching in Joburg and is unlikely to again, given the resurgence of the team’s fortunes under current coach John Mitchell.
In Lwazi Mvovo, the Sharks have one of the best up-and-coming wingers in the country and if he doesn’t tour with the Boks later this year, it will be a travesty. Outisde of Pietersen and Mvovo, other wing options in the senior squad include Odwa Ndungane, Louis Ludik and Stefan Terblanche (don’t be too surprised if he’ still playing next year), while a player who showed tremendous potential earlier in his career, Luzuko Vulindlu, seems to be making his way back into the set up after a few injury and form problems of late. Zuks has all of the attributes to make it as a top winger, with considerable bulk, tons of speed and a truly awesome sidestep as well. All the raw material is there – the Sharks must simply find ways to unlock his potential.
Let’s not forget young Mark Richards either, a lad who has shown that he is all heart and guts and has emerged as one of the leading try scorers in this year’s under 21 competition. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he is a silky runner, quick and elusive and tackles way above his weight. Hell, if the Stormers can get away with playing guys like Joe Pietersen and Gio Aplon on the wing in Super rugby, there’s no reason the Sharks couldn’t use Richards to equally good effect there, since he’s about the same size. Also keep a look out for Sibusiso Sithole, a young winger who toured with the SA Under 20 side to Argentina earlier this year and is currently in the SA Sevens squad for the Commonwealth games. He’s another who is big, fast and strong and showed in the IRB Junior Championship that he certainly knows how to score tries.
Big Kenyan Daniel Oijambo, currently playing as a loose forward in the under 21 side, is another who could make a huge impression at wing, if the coaches choose to return him to that position. All-in-all, no shortage of talent in the system and, as always, the question is whether the Sharks coaching team will be prepared to work with what we have and turn one or two of the raw youngsters into potential superstars like Mvovo. Hell, we might then find ourselves with so many wingers that we can afford to lend one or two to the Cheetahs to help them out…Tweet