A common gripe – or, at least, muttered accusation – since Heyneke Meyer took over as Bok coach centres around the perception player from the Blue Bulls, whom he knows and has worked with before, may enjoy an easier ride when it comes to Bok selection. While it is premature to say whether this will indeed be the case, we as Sharks fans need to acknowledge just how easy our players are making it for him, if this is indeed his plan.
One of our followers on Twitter made this point to me yesterday and it was well made indeed; how many of our current side do we genuinely believe should be starting for the Boks on current from? It’s one thing to claim that we are as good as the Bulls or Stormers on paper – and then bemoan the on-field performances that don’t seem to back this up – but the reality is, I fear, that our playing personnel are, if anything, over-represented in this week’s national planning camp, given how poorly the team has performed over 9 weeks of Super Rugby.
If Meyer had to pick a test starting fifteen tomorrow, how many Sharks players would be in that starting lineup? Bismarck du Plessis would, of course, be a strong contender, but there are other hookers who are more consistent and do the basics better, such as Adriaan Strauss. Brother Jannie may well be there, simply due to a dearth of experienced tight head options, but along with the only other incumbent Sharks forward in the test pack, Willem Alberts, current form hardly justifies the selection. Just three forwards from the team that a year or two back boasted the best pack in the country? Slim pickings indeed, but the amongst the backs, it’s worse.
For the reality is, unless Meyer were to opt to give JP Pietersen a reprieve and continue to pick him at wing, notwithstanding the fact that he hasn’t played there all season, there will not be a single Sharks player in a test backline selected on form. While Pat Lambie and Lwazi Mvovo must both come into the reckoning based on talent and potential, the reality is that the competitors for their positions are generally looking better and far more consistent week in and week out and a lot of that is due to those players being in teams that are performing better on the Super Rugby stage.
The Sharks need a strong core of hardened Bok regulars to give the team its shape and my fear right now is the steady erosion of that core as Sharks players fall out of Bok contention. I’ve even heard some fans express delight at the prospect that our players might miss out, because “at least then we’ll win the Currie Cup”… we’ve seen the oblivion that lies at the end of that line of reasoning, though: it’s called the Lions. They’ve been playing awfully in Super Rugby for years now and their stadium is regularly empty. Financial troubles persist and their stars have all left, to be replaced by journeymen. That scenario is a way off still, for the Sharks, but one that starts to seem more realistic by the day – in fact, it’s not too dissimilar to what happened when Kevin Putt became our coach a decade ago.
No – for the Sharks to remain strong and healthy, to fight on level terms for a position at the top of the South African rugby pile, we need to ensure that at least 10 of our starting 15 are among the top two in their position in the country. We need to fix the problems that are preventing us from being a realistic Super Rugby contender, in order to present our players in the best possible light to the national selectors; to force them to consider each and every Sharks man as a viable test contender. Who knows, if we get this right, we might even start to fill the stadium again…Tweet