If the lack of an extended squad of fit players, with depth in most (if not all) positions and plenty of competition for places is the reason for the Sharks’ patchy form in Super Rugby 2012 to date – a recent article on the Sharks Rugby website seems to suggest this very thing – then the good news is, we fans should expect things to go much more smoothly starting this weekend.
In fact, with the exception of Ross Skeate and Julian Redelinghuys (both out until June) and Alistair Hargreaves (who I doubt will play again anyway), the Sharks now have everybody else available for selection. The headache for the coaches now becomes who to leave out, rather than who to pick. For this week, at least, the surplus could work out in favour of the Sharks XV, since no eligibility restrictions apply to the quarter-final round of the Vodacom Cup; in other words, anyone who misses out on Sharks selection for the Highlanders game could play against the Bulls in the curtain-raiser. If the team should progress to the semi-final, however, any player who has played Super Rugby more than 3 times in 2012 will not be eligible for selection.
Beast Mtawarira’s expected return at loosehead should see Dale Chadwick drop out – if not all the way to the Sharks XV then probably to the bench, where he’ll no doubt fight with Wiehahn Herbst for a spot. The amazing Vodacom Cup form of Kyle Cooper should see him raise questions at least about the permutations at hooker, while all of Anton Bresler, Jandre Marais and Pieter-Steph du Toit will be in the running to partner Steven Sykes at lock.
It’s at loose forward, though, where the biggest headache will come, with Keegan Daniel, Marcell Coetzee, Willem Alberts, Ryan Kankowski, Jacques Botes and Jean Deysel all vying for at most 5, but probably only 4 spots in the match 22. With the coaches having acknowledged how vital it is to win all of the next 5 matches, one would fancy that continuity in selection will be crucial in terms of the forwards building synergy and momentum. In other words, with all the players rested and fit, we should expect the Sharks to now settle on their best forward combination and pick that same unit consistently.
Scrumhalf is one position where depth remains a concern, with nobody other than the young Cobus Reinach really pushing incumbent Charl McLeod, so it’s hard to see the Sharks opting for a halfback combination of anyone other than the latter and Pat Lambie. With Odwa Ndungane back to fitness, though, there are numerous permutations available amongst the rest of the back line positions, with Paul Jordaan in particular making a strong selection claim with his play in the Vodacom Cup. Lwazi Mvovo has been cleared to take his place on the left wing after a nasty hit against the Chiefs a fortnight ago, but right wing is up for grabs with any of Ndungane, incumbent Louis Ludik or JP Pietersen in the running. Should Pietersen move back to wing, Jordaan or Tim Whitehead could run at 13, with Meyer Bosman at 12 if the latter is preferred.
With Ludik no longer needed as a makeshift wing, it will be interesting to see whether he is picked at fullback in place of the strangely off-colour Riaan Viljoen. While Ludik has, in the past, been berated for a perceived lack of attacking threat, few can argue that his defensive play would be a cut above the error-strewn showings we’ve come to expect from former Griquas man Viljoen.
The ball, in summary, is back in the Sharks coaches’ court. Your injury problems are over; now to pick the best combination you can and show us how well they can play.Tweet