Rob du Preez will confirm his 28-man tour squad on Thursday; this first selection of players will have the responsibility of guiding the Sharks through their opening pair of Super Rugby fixtures, against the Reds in Brisbane on 25 February and then the Brumbies in Canberra a week later.
Du Preez named a large, virtually 50-strong squad back in November and bar one or two changes, he’s not tinkered much with that group. Potential selections have started to become a little clearer over the course of three warm-up fixtures, but Thursday is when the real test of his thinking will come, as he selects 28 players from that group to start the season.
Amongst that group will, of course, be his first-choice match 23, but the choice of the remaining five players will be restricted somewhat due to the demands of touring; while he would love to take a first and second choice in each position, the need to tour with five props, three hookers and three scrumhalves is likely to scupper that hope. Coaches have, at various times in the past, been a little more cavalier in selection and taken the risk of missing out on a specialist here and there, but the nightmare scenario of forfeiting a match due to the withdrawal of a front-ranker on the eve of a game is one that no coach would want to take.
Up front, three props and two hookers are automatic selections. Springboks Beast Mtawarira, Lourens Adriaanse and Coenie Oosthuizen will all be on the plane, as will Chiliboy Ralepelle and Franco Marais. Stephan Coetzee should expect a ticket too as third hooker, while much will depend on the fitness of Thomas du Toit and John-Hubert Meyer. As utility options, both would be valuable tourists; expect Juan Schoeman to go along as a specialist loosehead should either of the others not be fit to tour.
The situation at lock is similar; Etienne Oosthuizen and Ruan Botha have started as a combo in both major warm-ups and Stephan Lewies, if fit, should tour as third lock. If he has not recovered in time from his ankle injury, then Jean Droste will probably get the nod due to utility value, over the likes of Hyron Andrews and Wian Vosloo. That said, if du Preez opts to take an extra loose forward who can cover tight lock, Andrews would be the most logical choice.
Speaking of loosies, we’ll see Philip van der Walt, Tera Mtembu and Jean-Luc du Preez in the mix for sure and probably two others selected from Francois Kleinhans, Jean Deysel and Jacques Vermeulen. The latter, I’d imagine, should be a very strong favourite to make the group.
That’s around 16 forwards in total, leaving just 12 places for backs. The first-choice backline of Cobus Reinach, Pat Lambie, Andre Esterhuizen, Lukhanyo Am, Lwazi Mvovo, Kobus van Wyk and Curwin Bosch seems settled enough and you can definitely add the names of Michael Claassens and probably Clem Poitrenaud to that list as well, leaving just three extra spots. Either Hanco Venter or Rowan Gouws could be third scrumhalf (unless there’s another back somewhere with an undiscovered ability to deputise in a pinch), with Benhard Janse van Rensburg and either Jeremy Ward or Johan Deysel the most likely candidates – although with centre and flyhalf well-enough covered, perhaps S’bura Sithole could tour instead.
Don’t expect du Preez’s combination to differ too much from this (again depending on injuries):
Beast Mtawarira, Thomas du Toit, Lourens Adriaanse, Coenie Oosthuizen, John-Hubert Meyer, Franco Marais, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Stephan Coetzee, Etienne Oosthuizen, Ruan Botha, Stephan Lewies, Philip van der Walt, Francois Kleinhans, Jacques Vermeulen, Jean-Luc du Preez, Tera Mtembu, Cobus Reinach, Michael Claassens, Rowan Gouws, Patrick Lambie, Andre Esterhuizen, Lukhanyo Am, Jeremy Ward, Lwazi Mvovo, Kobus van Wyk, S’bura Sithole, Curwin Bosch, Clemént PoitrenaudTweet