Let’s play virtual coach here for a bit and try to work out what sort of things John Plumtree and his coaching team are likely to be looking to get out of tonight’s warm-up match against the Leopards.
Plumtree, of course, already has a very good idea of what his starting line up will look like for the season opener against the Cheetahs. Based on what we think, tonight’s team is pretty much a mixture of his second-choice pack and his first choice backline, with one or two exceptions in a few positions. Unfortunately, the Leopards team as named is unlikely to provide all that much in terms of opposition, but nevertheless, the Sharks coaches should be able to take a few things from this encounter. Let’s see if we can come up with five…
1)Steyn as captain. Plumtree is clearly looking for an established starter to take up the vice-captaincy reigns whilst Bismarck is injured. By delivering a commanding performance and showing that he can keep the team in check and focused on their task, Frans Steyn could underline that he is the man for this job.
2)Timmy Whitehead as a starter. Whitehead would probably have been most people’s pick for the 12 shirt before Steyn returned. While the precocious (and much faster) Paul Jordaan has a lot of support, Plumtree will be watching Whitehead closely to see if he can combine well enough with Steyn to make a claim for the 13 jersey. Outside centre is an area where the Sharks are still struggling for genuine depth and should the former Stormers man show enough to compensate for his lack of deadly strike running ability (relative to Jordaan that is), the coaches will sleep a lot easier.
3)Allan Dell as a senior player. The young man is being given a golden opportunity to establish himself as the de facto backup at loosehead prop. Dell has a fantastic attitude, work ethic and ball skills, but can he hold his own as a starting option at scrum time, despite his size? This is what Plumtree will want to see tonight.
4)Do we have a lineout? It’s probably not surprising that Plumtree has opted to let both of his “athletic” locks, Franco van der Merwe and Steph du Toit, start, together with Kyle Cooper. In short, this is a completely different combo to the one that played in the Currie Cup final and one feels that whichever of these locks stakes the stronger claim in terms of lineout dominance will probably find themselves partnering Anton Bresler against the Cheetahs. Cooper also has a golden opportunity to push for a start ahead of Craig Burden, if he can get his basics right on the night.
5)Life in the old dogs? Plumtree knows who his first-choice loose forwards are, more or less and the fact that none of Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee or Ryan Kankowski is playing tonight speaks volumes. Together with captain Keegan Daniel, there’s precious little room left in the squad for any loose forward options, meaning that all three of Jacques Botes, Jean Deysel and Tera Mtembu will need to play out of their socks to prove that they belong anywhere other than the Vodacom Cup squad this season. Harsh, perhaps, but not far from the truth.
There’s a sixth question, of course – one that is unlikely to be answered due to the weakness of the opposition. How effective can this second string pack be at dominating the opposition? Would Plumtree be able to go into a match proper without the likes of Beast, the du Plessis’s, Bresler, Alberts or Coetzee and still remain confident that his backs will get the ball they need?
Let’s hope that the coaches get at least some of what they need out of tonight’s game. Oh – and no injuries, PLEASE!Tweet