A chance for youngsters

2015-04-09 00:00

REPUTATIONS could be cast aside when the Sharks name their team today to face the Lions in their round 9 clash this Saturday at Ellis Park.

There was little to write home about after last weekend’s drubbing at the hands of the Crusaders, and the Sharks’ big name players shrunk to obscurity in the face of the marauding New ­Zealanders, who ran in eight tries to shame the Durban side in front of the King’s Park faithful.

Although we’re unlikely to see wholesale replacements, fans can expect a number of changes in personnel after injuries and suspensions have ruled some out. Meanwhile a couple of players have finally returned to fitness and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Springbok hardman Willem Alberts is back in the mix after finally recovering from a recurring hamstring injury. The “Bone Collector” will bolster the Sharks with his experience and physicality, but he believes the onus is on the younger members in the squad to put their hands up in the weeks to come.

“They have to step up, show their team-mates, coaches and the rugby fraternity that they’re up for big rugby. From a team environment, we’ve got a great vibe among the players, both young and old, so we try our best to help them fit in and do their best,” Alberts said.

“I think if we support them it’ll bring the best out of them. Obviously we can go forward as team from there, all of us were young players at a stage and you just have to do your best whenever you’re in the team.”

He returns along with a now-fit ­Etienne Oosthuizen, who was a standout in last year’s Currie Cup campaign.

The backline will change quite a bit this weekend due to a couple of injuries. JP Pietersen was a late withdrawal from last week’s match and will be out again this weekend with a pectoral injury. Meanwhile Pat Lambie faces a lengthy six weeks out with a neck vertebrae ­injury.

That opens the door for flyhalf Fred Zeilinga and centre Waylon Murray, while S’bura Sithole looks set to return to Super Rugby duty on the wing for the first time since he was injured in round one.

Another Springbok and Sharks ­veteran, Odwa Ndungane, believes his side will do well to right the wrongs of the past weekend, and singled out a couple of areas where they struggled.

“We have had a look at the video and analysed where we let ourselves down. We couldn’t exit very well, we put ourselves under pressure, they came back and found holes in our defence, which is something we pride ourselves on, so we’re working on that. It’s a big focus of ours,” Ndungane said.

“We don’t have a choice this weekend, but to make things right.”

It will take a monumental effort to beat an on-form Lions outfit at their Johannesburg fortress. The Lions are on a three-match winning streak and their win over the Bulls last weekend summed up their never-say-die attitude — which Alberts attested to having once been part and parcel of the Lions furniture.

“They have a good environment there and the coaching staff and players are working well together. There are a lot of good players there, I think history in the past couple of years set them back a bit, but as a team they kept on working hard and showed if you play as a unit and the spirit is high, you can play good rugby and win games,” Alberts said.

While he makes a valid point about his opposition, Alberts believes the Sharks need to go back to basics if they are to change their fortunes.

“We need to bring back what was working for us and get the error rate down. In every game we’ve made errors either on defence or attack, handling or individual errors that we need to cut out. Then we will get more ball, build momentum and then we can play.”

Ndungane echoed those sentiments, arguing that it’s not about changing their game plan but focusing on being clinical.

“We still want to play the style of rugby we want to play, but, in saying that, we have to execute well. This weekend we have a tough game against a Lions’ side who are on a high. So we’re focusing on the set-piece — we have to stop them there — and our defence has to be spot on. Also our kicking game needs to be on point.”

The Sharks take on the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday. Kickoff is at 5.05 pm.

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