When Sharks coach John Plumtree sits down to pick his team for Saturday’s Super Rugby opener in Bloemfontein, He probably won’t have to scratch his head much at all. The tight five and entire back line, with the possible exception of the scrumhalf position, appear to be relatively simple to pick. Loose forward, however, presents a different challenge altogether.
It’s ironic that, in some ways, the injuries to Keegan Daniel and Willem Alberts may have made Plumtree’s life a little easier in that he now has fewer potential combinations to consider – and fewer hard conversations to have with senior players about match 22 omission. While the likes of Francois Kleinhans and Tera Mtembu add sorely-needed depth at this point, we have to be honest that Plumtree is unlikely to field either of them in his squad at this stage, opting to rather pick from Jacques Botes, Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee and Ryan Kankowski.
There is one proviso, though – if Kankowksi is deemed to not be quite ready for Super Rugby action, then the coach might opt to give Mtembu a bench spot this week. The fact that the former played such a key role in the Sharks lineout last year, coupled with the loss of other back-ball jumpers in Daniel and Alberts, might lead the coach to decide that he can’t do without Kankowski – or perhaps even an out-and-out lineout man such as Pieter-Steph du Toit – among his loose forward contingent for the game.
Botes is probably a safe pick for the number 6 jersey, since I’m not convinced that the Sharks necessarily consider Coetzee a natural fit in that position. The veteran’s great pre-season form should also swing selection his way and if any of the loose trio positions can be considered cut and dried at this stage, I’d say Botes’ selection is the closest to a given. Much then will depend on Kankowski. If he’s deemed fit to start, then he will, of course, be at 8, leaving a straight choice between Deysel and Coetzee for the blindside role. The former’s perceived specialisation in that position could see him win out, with Coetzee’s versatility being used off the bench. That said, if Kankowski is not going to start (or play at all), then Coetzee must be a good pick to start at 8.
My prediction is that Plumtree won’t tinker much (actually, at all) with the side that started in Nelspriut, meaning a starting trio of Botes, Deysel and Coetzee. Expect to see du Toit and Kankowski both on the bench, with the former officially covering lock, but perhaps also useful as a bashing option at blindside should Deysel tire after an hour.Tweet