Will Sharks reshuffle for Griquas clash?
THE RUGBY Championship drew to a close on a weekend where no Currie Cup action was on offer, and what that means for the teams heading into the final round of the regular season is that there will be an influx of talent available.
For the Sharks, the question is how does coach Robert du Preez go about utilising his Springbok stars? WESTERN Province assistant coach Dawie Snyman says it doesn’t matter where Damian Willemse plays when they face the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday.
The return of some of their Springbok players will give head coach John Dobson a selection headache or two as the Boks who aren’t contracted will be available for the Pretoria fixture – meaning that the likes of tighthead prop Wilco Louw, hooker Bongi Mbonambi, loose-forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Willemse could all be injected into WP’s weekend line-up.
Snyman said that whether Willemse plays at 10 or 15 doesn’t really matter.
There has been no real issues in the Sharks’ squad when it comes to ability, rather the issue have all been team-based and centre around the inability to take all their chances – and perhaps even complacency in a watered-down tournament.
The Sharks have a relatively easy game to round out the regular season, as they face the Griquas who have just the one win to their name. However, it is a game on the dry, hard pitches of Kimberley.
“The Springboks have had a look at him as a fullback. He played fullback for us against Griquas and in last year’s final. But his best games in Super Rugby came at flyhalf. So we will have to see how the week goes.”
“Damian is a special player. What is nice about someone who can play those 10 and 15, is that he can play as a first receiver and in the wider channels as well. So we can use him in different ways.”
While Snyman believes the return of their Boks won’t be a disruption, he also said that it’s going to be important that WP hold onto the momentum and continuity they’ve built up.
“There are guys who have been performing well, so we’ll have to look at that when we select the team.
This match is a good opportunity for players who took a bye recently to work their way back to their best, and to reintroduce a few star players and get the team cohesion going before the semi-finals.
The biggest question will be how Du Preez goes about using Andre Esterhuizen, should the centre be available. Esterhuizen enjoyed a stint in Japan last year at this time, but his Bok call-up may see him staying put and playing some Currie Cup.
“A lot of them have been a part of our squad. Wilco played for us against the Pumas and Griquas, Damian played against Griquas and Notshe played a few games.”
“They are guys who are used to what we do and how we play. It is not as if they are coming in from outside and they don’t know what we’re doing.”
Shifting his focus to the Bulls, Snyman said that he’s expecting a tough one and believes the Pretoria side have a point to prove.
“They have had three weeks off and will be ready for this game,” he said.
“They have been quite quiet but still had a very good Currie Cup so people have not been paying attention to them. They are a good team and they will want to prove a point at Loftus.”
Marius Louw has been infallible at No 12, but if they are looking for another big running centre, Esterhuizen is a bit of a step up in a similar mould to Louw.
The Sharks will also have an embarrassment of front row riches with Thomas du Toit’s attention no longer divided between the Boks and the Sharks – although he was left out of the home leg of the Rugby Championship.
Beast Mtawarira also returns to WITH a semi-final place on the line, the big question is will Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen throw his big guns into the clash against the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday?
The Lions go into the final round-robin game in fourth place with 16 points, while the Pumas are fifth with 12 points. The winner will play in the semi-finals; the loser’s season will be over.
But while the Pumas has proven a tough nut to crack at home in Nelspruit and should fancy their chances against their rivals from Joburg, Van Rooyen has a few aces up his sleeve this week, which could prove telling.
With the Rugby Championship done and dusted, several Springbok players are all of a sudden available to the Lions. Backs Aphiwe Dyantyi (pictured), Lionel Mapoe, Elton Jantjies and Ross Cronje could move straight into the starting team for this weekend’s match, while Warren Whiteley – who missed both home Tests of the Rugby Championship recently because of injury – will have to pass a fitness test before he is considered.
Hooker Malcolm Marx, who was man of the match against New Zealand at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, may be given a week off, considering he has played a lot of rugby recently.
Van Rooyen will certainly be desperate to get these stars into Durban, but as a contracted Springbok should sit out of the Currie Cup. That being said, he was used far less towards the end of the Championship and may well benefit from a bit of game time.
Sbu Nkosi will also be fully focused on the Boks after being dropped late for the home leg of the Championship. The winger has returned from injury and will surely be raring to get back to full fitness ahead of the end of year tour. the mix as quickly as possible as he looks to secure a last-four place. And how the Lions could do with a boost right now.
After making a good start to the Currie Cup competition, with wins against Griquas, the Cheetahs and the Bulls, Van Rooyen’s team came unstuck in their two most recent outings. Against the Sharks on September 22, they lost 37-21, while the week before that they were handed a 65-38 hiding by Western Province.
A win for the Lions would also see them move into third place and overtake the Bulls (17 points) should the Pretoria-based team fail to beat Western Province – the runaway log leaders with a perfect five-out-of-five record for 25 points – at Loftus on Saturday.
Van Rooyen will name his team for Friday’s match today.