So John Plumtree has announced, in no uncertain terms, that he will not ever pick a B-team to represent the Sharks, because as coach, he has too much respect for the jersey to ever willingly lose a game (or, I guess, pick a team that he doesn’t feel has a good chance to win the game). Good on him, I say.
What he does go on to concede, though, is that he will take the opportunity to “freshen up” some players, given that he’s had to make do without a fair whack of big men this campaign and that others have really had to carry a heavy workload. He has the luxury of a few Bok players coming back this week as well and reckons that anyone who “knows their rugby” will be able to tell who he’s going to rest.
That’s a challenge that I simply couldn’t ignore!
It’s not quite as simple as that, though. Plumtree only has Bismarck du Plessis, Ryan Kankowski, Beast Mtawarira and Adi Jacobs coming back into the mix this week (we say only!), while if one looks at the accumulated game time that his team has amassed over the last 13 rounds, there are plenty more of them needing rest than he can safely leave out. Another player who should return to the squad this week is Alistair Hargreaves, who sat out last week’s game due to a foot injury. Hargs himself, though, has played a lot of games this year.
The obvious candidate for a rest, just looking at the game time stats, are Keegan Daniel, Willem Alberts, Steven Sykes, Craig Burden, Andries Strauss, Stefan Terblanche, Pat Lambie and Lwazi Mvovo. Those are the blokes that have been in the match 22 virtually every week throughout the campaign, many of them starting every game. Mvovo, for example, has played every minute of every game bar one, the away game against the Pumas, where he was replaced in the second half. In an ideal world, Plumtree would leave all of those players out entirely, but the reality is that he can’t do that without completely throwing the game. His hand looks likely to be forced when it comes to Alberts, at least, with the burly loose forward forced to sit out for a week with a knee injury.
Terblanche enjoyed an enforced rest last week and I’m sure he’ll be raring to go, such is his level of fitness and conditioning. With few suitable backline replacements waiting to step in, though – and given that Strauss ideally should be rested, along with Mvovo – it’s at the back where Plummo’s juggling task will be the most challenging. He can start with either of Charl McLeod or Rory Kockott and has indicated that Andre Pretorius will stay at flyhalf. Pat Lambie doesn’t look tired and should probably start at 12, with Terblanche at 13, to be replaced there by Adi Jacobs in the second half. With JP Pietersen not available, Mvovo may have to soldier on this week, although moving Terblanche to wing when Jacobs comes on would mean that the top try-scorer would only have to see out 40 minutes. A more adventurous option would be to pick Luzuko Vulindlu on the wing.
Up front, Keegan Daniel should probably be left out entirely, with Kankowski coming back in at number 8 and Mike Rhodes taking over for Alberts at flank. Sykes is another who ought to miss the trip, with Gerhard Mostert partnering Hargreaves in the second row. The front row picks itself and the fact that Kyle Cooper should probably be used to help the under 21s ensure top spot on their log, implies that Burden will probably need to come along too, although hopefully du Plessis could see out the full 80 minutes.
So here you go, Plum. Here’s my match 22 and substitution plan. You may use it, if you like!
15 Ludik, 14 Ndungane, 13 Terblanche, 12 Lambie, 11 Vulindlu, 10 Pretorius, 9 McLeod, 8 Kankowski, 7 Rhodes, 6 Botes, 5 Hargreaves, 4 Mostert, 3 J Du Plessis, 2 B du Plessis, 1 Mtawarira
16 Burden, 17 van Staden, 18 Bresler, 19 Ndlovu, 20 Kockott, 21 Jacobs, 22 Swanepoel
40 minutes: Jacobs on at outside centre, Terblanche to right wing, Ndungane off.
40 minutes: Swanepoel on at inside centre, Lambie to flyhalf, Pretorius to fullback, Ludik off.
50 minutes: Bresler on at lock, Mostert off.
50 minutes: van Staden on at tighthead prop, Jannie du Plessis off
55 minutes: Kockott on at scrumhalf, McLeod off
60 minutes: Ndlovu on at flank, Botes off
70 minutes: Burden on at hooker, Bismarck du Plessis off (if needed)