While the Sharks should feel that they will go into next year’s inaugural Super 15 with one of the strongest sets of loose forwards in the competition, a clear-out of surplus players during the last year, coupled with a worrying tendency for the main ball-carriers to get injured, does raise a potential depth question mark. It is imperative that the Sharks use the Vodacom Cup to once again ensure that adequate reserve options are available should the injury curse strike.
The list of back-row players to have left the Sharks in recent times is staggeringly long. Jacques Potgieter (EP), Warren Whiteley (Lions), Renaldo Bothma (Lions) and Thabo Mamojele (Leopards) have all gone on to establish themselves at other unions. Mike Rhodes (Lions) and Skholiwe Ndlovu (retired) will also not play for the Sharks in 2011, while Justin Downey and Luvo Lusaseni are both still weighing up their future options, having been released on loan to Griquas earlier this year. With at least two of the regular starters for the Sharks under 21 side this year (Meyer Swanepoel and Jaco Otto) not given senior contracts, the back row cupboard is starting to look just a little bare – outside of the established stars, that is.
Don’t get me wrong – in Keegan Daniel, Jacques Botes, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Ryan Kankowski, the Sharks have more than enough options to see off the challenges of all comers in the Super 15. The game that they play, though, is heavily reliant on a huge work-rate from the loose trio, though and with Deysel already sure to miss out on the opening period of the competition, there currently isn’t any loose forward depth at all in the squad. Mark my words – one or more of these player WILL break down during the course of the season and it is essential to ensure that there’s somebody there to step in. I have already made a very strong case for the Sharks to ensure they retain Downey’s services, as his ability to slot in anywhere in the back row makes him a vital asset.
Super Rugby squads have been enlarged to 40 players, it seems and in a group that size, I would expect at least 8 loose forwards. In addition to the five already mentioned, the Sharks have contracted Lambert Groenewald, Lubabalo Mtembu and Adriaan Theisinger (that we know of) as loose forward options and although each of those three is undoubtedly talented, it is unlikely that any is really ready to be thrust straight into Super Rugby at this stage. Mtembu is on duty with the Bok sevens team anyway, although his contract allows the Sharks to call him up for Super 15 duty if he is required.
It is crucial that the Sharks coaches agree on a common approach, training regimen and game plan with their Vodacom Cup counterparts, so that any players (particularly loose forwards) who are on standby for the Super 15 squad can stay match fit and sharp playing the same sort of game that will be required of them should they need to step up. While Theisinger is a pretty natural selection at 8 for the Sharks XV, it is Groenewald who offers somewhat of a conundrum. He is built to pretty much the same dimensions as Jean Deysel (1.89m and 110kg) making him a good candidate to play the wrecking ball role on the blind side. That said, though, there is no obvious candidate that I can see to play open side for the Vodacom Cup team and it may well be that Groenewald could provide the blueprint here for what the Sharks tried, with some success, of picking a big guy (Deysel) at 6 as well. That would free up the blind side slot for someone like Kene Okafor or Daniel Oijambo, both of whom are big ball carriers.Tweet