After doing this sort of thing for a number of years, I generally have a pretty good feeling about what sort of team the Sharks are likely to pick for a game; this week, though, I have to be honest and admit that I have no clue whatsoever what the selection approach is going to be. I’m hoping that John Plumtree isn’t in the same boat!
The Sharks coach finds himself in a pretty interesting – yet also perilous – position this week. The side has done remarkably well to win their last four games and move strongly back into contention for at least a wildcard play-off spot, but possibly even more. That good run has been built on mostly consistent selection where that’s been possible and the vast majority of the senior players that were a little inconspicuous earlier in the season are now back in great form. In fact, a fair few of the team are now very firmly in the Bok selection frame for next weekend’s opener against England, which Plumtree has admitted is something of a worry for him.
The last thing the coach can afford now is to have his stars go off the boil as they start to think more about the upcoming Bok challenge than they do about Saturday’s game against the Lions. Say what you like about Mitchell’s unruly mob, but their shocking track record this season, bizarrely, doesn’t really play into the Sharks’ hands. After four weeks of needing to get up for huge challenges, one couldn’t blame the Sharks players if they’re subconsciously seeing this week’s game as a bit of a break – hopefully a nice easy game that won’t require quite as much from a mental preparation and motivation point of view.
That thinking, of course, is exactly the sort of thinking that led to a 30-point smacking for the Sharks the last time they travelled down to Coca Cola Park and Plumtree will know that his old mate John Mitchell will be banking on exactly this as he tries to get his battered team up for the game. Fact is, despite how awful the Lions have been this season, they’re probably still good enough to beat a Sharks team who think they simply need to pitch up to get a win.
Plumtree has hinted at changes, saying that he will drop anyone whose mind is on the England challenge, rather than on the Lions game. He went a little further on the Sharks website, saying ““We’ve worked really hard and now need to ensure everyone is on-board and not giving thought to other matters, perhaps it’s an opportunity to throw some guys into the fray that haven’t had much time.” That statement, to me, is as clear an indication as you’ll get that the coach is planning on rotation ahead of the Joburg trip, but it remains to be seen exactly how far he goes. There’s a huge gamble here and the Sharks have far too much at stake to rick any chance of not coming away with the full haul of five points.
One area where changes surely must come is in midfield and while there’s definitely a chance that Frans Steyn could play (given that the Paul Jordaan fight appears to have been lost) even his inclusion might not really help all that much. Steyn is a 12 these days and it’s unlikely that Plumtree would want to get off on the wrong foot with the Bok management by playing him at 13. Problem is, with Tim Whitehead still unavailable and Meyer Bosman also the world’s unlikeliest outside centre, Plumtree will have little option other than to move JP Pietersen back into the midfield for this game, with Odwa Ndungane starting on the wing. My hope, though, is that Steyn will crack a bench spot ahead of Marius Joubert.
Whatever the case, though, my money is on one or two real surprises when the side is named tomorrow.Tweet