No no! Not THAT Pat… I mean the OTHER Pat. The prop from Michaelhouse! Right, now that we’ve got that out of the way, read on…
While there was a fair amount of initial euphoria when the Sharks website revealed a list of players on new or renewed contracts last week, not much emphasis was placed on the names that weren’t mentioned. There was good reason for this – the Sharks were in the final stages of the build-up to the most important game of their season so far and while the news that stalwarts such as Ryan Kankowski and JP Pietersen had decided to remain in Durban came as a timely fillip, any talk about those who may not be in the mix next year would probably not have been appropriate. Having had a proper look (and done a bit of digging) over the last few days, though, it suddenly hit me like a hammer. Pat Cilliers is not listed in the contracted players group.
Now, that in itself is not necessarily major cause for alarm, since I know that Rudolf Straeuli is still finalising discussions with a number of guys, but I also know that, from a Sharks perspective, at least, they feel hey have the core of their Super 15 squad tied up now and are now just tidying up a few loose ends – I’d hate to think that Pat Cilliers should fall into that category. He is, after all, one of those players who has been forced into the background as a result of a slew of Springbok front-rankers ahead of him in the pecking order, despite possessing clear and undisputed talent that would have seen him emerge as a regular Super Rugby starter at virtually any other union. The 2010 Currie Cup was Cilliers’ big break and I thought that he stood up manfully and progressed well throughout the campaign, regularly returning impressive tackle and ball carrying statistics, while his scrumming continued to improve week by week. We must remember that in those early stages of the competition where the Sharks scrum appeared to take a step backwards, Cilliers was working together with two other front-row rookies in Craig Burden and Wiehahn Herbst. He continued to work hard, though, taking criticism in his stride and put in a masterful display of destructive scrummaging against the Cheetahs in Durban that saw his opposite number replaced after only half an hour.
The Sharks do, of course, have an abundance of prop depth and with John Smit and Eugene van Staden both more-than-capable loosehead options as back-up to Beast Mtawarira, it’s hard to imagine Cilliers featuring regularly in the upcoming Super 15. The Currie Cup is an entirely different matter, though and with another young prop, Sabelo Nhlapo, deciding to continue his career with Tukkies (and perhaps the Blue Bulls after that) next year, without Cilliers in the mix, the Sharks may find themselves needing to back an untested youngster like Dale Chadwick once the Boks are out of the picture next year. We are, of course, assuming that SARU will allow their contracted players to play most of the Super 15 competition, which in a World Cup year is far from a certainty.
I really hope that the Sharks can make some sort of a meaningful plan here to keep Pat Cilliers with the union for the coming years. We have spent a number of years developing him now and he is, I believe, ready to make an impact at Super Rugby level if required. Throwing all of that development away and starting from scratch with someone else (or worse, buying in another player when the chips are down) simply makes no sense at all.Tweet