Running the rule over the Sharks side named to face the Bulls tomorrow evening reveals a pretty good mix between experienced veterans and eager new faces. While the backs, on the whole, have a pretty green look about them, there is plenty of experience to fall back on, particularly amongst the pack.
The starting 8 is a rather bizarre mix, in fact; three of the players named (Dale Chadwick, Anton Bresler and Marcell Coetzee) will be starting for the first time at this level. On the other hand, though, the remaining five members of the pack have each amassed at least 50 caps for the Sharks. The only completely uncapped player in the forward mix is Chadwick, with Bresler (five) and Coetzee (four) having earned caps coming off the bench last season. Steven Sykes has 52 caps, one shy of Jannie du Plesses (53). Keegan Daniel (64) and Ryan Kankowski (65) are also neck-and-neck, with Bismarck du Plessis way out in front on 82. Jannie presumably also has some Super Rugby caps for the Cheetahs, but finding those details is nigh-impossible!
The most-capped player in the team, though, is 87-cap veteran Jacques Botes, who will play off the bench. He’s joined by another warhorse in Ross Skeate, whose 35 Stormers caps add to his five for the Sharks to see him bordering on veteran status. Craig Burden has 26 and Wiehahn Herbst also just 5, all gained as a replacement, showing again just how much the Sharks will lean on the experience of the du Plessis brothers up front.
Amongst the backs, JP Pietersen’s 70 caps stick out like a bit of a sore thumb, with Louis Ludik (17 for the Sharks and 36 for the Lions) the only other chap to have played more than 50 times at this level. Riaan Viljoen is, of course, making his Sharks debut and for reasons mentioned above it’s not clear exactly how many time he played for the Cheetahs – probably safe to assume somewhere in the 30s though. Pat Lambie (22) and Lwazi Mvovo (21) are both no greenhorns, yet not quite veterans either while Fred Michalak again has plenty of other experience to complement his somewhat meagre tally of 12 Super Rugby appearances. Tim Whitehead, who gained 10 caps for the Stormers back in 2010 but hasn’t played at this level since is the guy who might be feeling the nerves most at this stage; having a 70-capper on his outside (and a pair of Bulls debutants in front of him) will hopefully make things a little easier for him, though.
The backline bench, again, has a pretty good blend, with Charl McLeod somehow just “feeling” more experienced than his 23 appearances would suggest. Meyer Bosman is another whose Cheetahs cap tally is missing forever in the non-existent annals of Free State rugby, but with 17 Sharks caps to his name, it’s probably safe to assume that he is very close to 50 total appearances in this competition. Paul Jordaan, in contrast, will be playing his first game for the Sharks in any senior competition, so spare a thought for the youngster if he gets on!Tweet