White throws the dice
Sharks playing Saracens may be a costly gamble
JAKE White is looking to win on both the swings and the roundabouts when the Sharks see action for the first time this year at Allianz Park in London where they will face a formidable Saracens outfit late this afternoon.
White’s dilemma is that he wants his Sharks exposed to tough, testing opposition as they prepare for their Super Rugby opener against the Bulls in Durban on February 15. But this ridiculously early introduction to the season — a winter sport starting in January — does come with the risk of injury as the Sharks face battlehardened opposition, and this is one of White’s major concerns.
(It was in the corresponding game last year — against the Leopards at Woodburn Stadium — that Sharks coach John Plumtree lost firstchoice centre Tim Whitehead and captain Keegan Daniel to serious injuries and they joined Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts on the sidelines).
“The most important thing about that game is that we get through it injuryfree,” says White of the Saracens game.
The Sharks coach is also concerned that expectations could be too high.
“I hope people would appreciate that Saracens, the Premiership leaders, are in the middle of their season, while this is the first hitout for us. We haven’t had any contact situations of a fullyfledged fixture.”
But White believes that Saracens will provide his players with just the type of opposition they need ahead of the Bulls contest.
“This game mimics a little bit of what we can expect from the Bulls. Saracens play a little bit like the Bulls. They have a big pack of forwards, their setpiece is strong, they kick a lot. It gives me and the coaching staff an opportunity to see the things we want to do against the Bulls.”
White said he would be playing his cards close to his chest because the game is being televised.
“But there will be a lot of analysis of the game.”
There will also be a number of fascinating duels across the artificial turf at Allianz Park with the contests at lock and in midfield of particular interest.
The lineout battle will be between the Sharks’ two 21yearold locks, Springbok PieterSteph du Toit and new signing Etienne Oosthuizen, and Saracens’ experienced England Test secondrowers in veteran Steve Borthwick and Mouritz Botha.
White will also be hoping that his young backs stand up to the challenge.
Tim Swiel, imported from Cape Town, has been preferred to Fred Zeilinga as Pat Lambie’s understudy at flyhalf today, and he faces a tough baptism. Swiel will be up against the most prolific pointsscorer in the English Premiership in the 33yearold Charlie Hodgson, an experienced Test flyhalf who has Springbok scrumhalf Neil de Kock partnering him at halfback.
Hodgson said he was excited about playing against a leading South African team for the first time in a 14year career.
“It might seem unusual to be playing a match like this in the middle of our season, but we [Saracens] are a club constantly challenging conventions and there is a real buzz around the training ground. The Sharks are one of the top teams in Super Rugby and we’ll have to be at our best to compete against a team with all their Springboks.”
The Sharks have two other 20somethings in fullback Tyler Fisher and inside centre Andre Esterhuizen and these two youngsters will also be looking to play their way into White’s Super Rugby match squad for the Bulls game.
The Sharks pack contains most of the familiar names with five current Boks and an allTest frontrow. There are also five South Africans among the Saracens forwards and the two sets of forwards appear well matched.
And watching the outcome with more than passing interest will be Brendan Venter, who was in charge of the Sharks less than three months ago when they
World Series, Las Vegas. won the Currie Cup and is still Saracens’ technical director.
The Saracens, who have been in excellent form this English winter and have all the momentum, should prevail against the underdone Sharks. But White will think that the long trek north was worth the effort if the Sharks are competitive, his young talent stand tall and there are no serious injuries.
15. Tyler Fisher, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Tim Swiel, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Willem Alberts, 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Tera Mtembu, 5. PieterSteph du Toit, 4. Etienne Oosthuizen, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1. Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Dale Chadwick, 18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. Stephan Lewies, 20. Jacques Botes, 21. Charl McLeod, 22. Heimar Williams, 23. Jaco van Tonder.
15. Chris Wyles; 14. James Short, 13. Michael Tagicakibau, 12. Marcelo Bosch, 11. David Strettle; 10. Charlie Hodgson, 9. Neil de Kock; 1. Richard Barrington, 2. Schalk Brits, 3. Matt Stevens, 4. Steve Borthwick (c), 5. Mouritz Botha, 6. Justin Melck, 7. Jacques Burger, 8. Ernst Joubert. Replacements: 16. Scott Spurling, 17. Nick Auterac, 18. Petrus Du Plessis, 19. Tom Jubb, 20. Takashi Kikutani, 21. Richard Wigglesworth, 22. Duncan Taylor, 23. Sam Stanley.
4.30 pm (SA time). CSN, SS1 and SSHD.
2.35 pm: Football — FA Cup Round 4, AFC Bournemouth v Liverpool. 4.55 pm: Football — FA Cup, round four, Bolton Wanderers v Cardiff City. 7.20 pm: Football — FA Cup, round four, Stevenage v Everton.
4.45 pm: Football — Orange African Nations Championship QF, Morocco v Nigeria. 8.15 pm: Football — Orange African Nations Championship QF, Mali v Zimbabwe.
11.30 am: Golf — European Tour, Qatar Masters, day four.
9.40 am: Cricket — Big Bash Twenty20, Sydney Thunder v Sydney Sixers. 8 pm: Golf — PGA Tour, Farmers Insurance Open, day three.
12.12 am: Rugby — HSBC Sevens World Series, round four, South Africa v Kenya. 2.20 am: Rugby — HSBC Sevens World Series, continues. 10 am: Tennis — Australian Open Men’s Final, Rafael Nadal v Stanislas Wawrinka. 7.10 pm — noon: Rugby, HSBC Sevens World Series, ends.
5.10 am: Cricket — Australia v England, fifth ODI. 1.20 pm: Cricket — Ram Slam T20 Chal lenge, Dolphins v Warriors, continues. 3.15 pm: Cricket — Ram Slam T20 Challenge, Titans v Highveld Lions.
2.50 pm: Football — FA Cup, round four Sheffield Utd v Fulham. 5.25 pm: Football — FA Cup, round four, Chelsea v Stoke City. 7.30 pm: Football — FA Cup Draw, fifth round.
4.45 pm: Foot ball — Orange African Nations Championship QF, Gabon v Libya. 8.15 pm: Football — Orange African Nations Championship QF, Ghana v Democratic Republic of the Congo.
11.45 am: Cricket — Ram Slam T20 Challenge, Dolphins v Warriors.
8 pm: Golf — PGA Tour, Farmers Insurance Open, day four.
Jake White starts his tenure as Sharks coach today with a preseason friendly against English club Saracens.