I have this awful flashback going through my mind… the last time the Sharks played a Super Rugby knock-out game in Australia, incumbent coach Dick Muir had a brain fart and ended up picking the Tongan Travesty Epi Taione on the flank.
Those of you who have better therapists than I do probably won’t remember what happened that day and we don’t need to dwell on it – the reality, though, is that Muir panicked and changed a winning combination because the pressure of knock-out rugby got to him. I hope to God that John Plumtree doesn’t do the same this week.
Fact is, that apart from a poor first half against the Cheetahs, the Sharks have looked pretty damn good for 120 of the last 160 minutes they’ve been on the field. The lapse in Durban last week came down to enforced personnel changes, I feel, with the team that started against the Bulls, by and large, the best that the Sharks can field and the one that we should try to stick to as far as possible.
Obviously we’ll have Beast Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis back to start this week – that’s a selection that makes itself. Jannie du Plessis and Anton Bresler must also start, along with the loose trio of Keegan Daniel, Marcell Coetzee and Ryan Kankowski that has been so instrumental in our two most recent wins. The enforced loss of Frans Steyn opens up some midfield permutations, but the half back pair (Charl McLeod and Fred Michalak) and back three (Lwazi Mvovo, JP Pietersen and Louis Ludik) must be retained as is, with last week’s decision to drop Ludik proving to be wrong, in hindsight.
That leaves a single spot at lock and one of the centre positions up for grab (assuming that Tim Whitehead will definitely occupy the other) and it’s here that Plumtree has some interesting choices to make. I’d think that Paul Jordaan would probably have the inside track to start at 13, leaving the number 4 jersey as the big unknown. The major choice I see there is whether to throw Steven Sykes straight back into the fray, or ask Willem Alberts to take one for the team and start at lock. My preference, for this week only, would be the latter given Sykes’ shortage of match fitness.
Here, in other words, is the Sharks team that I would pick for Saturday. Note how little it differs from the one that’s played in the last two weeks:
15 Louis Ludik 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Subs: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Jandre Marais, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane