Big test for coaches

2011-07-16 00:00

WITH sweeping changes, new faces and no form guide, no one knows quite what to expect when the Sharks open the defence of their Currie title against the Blue Bulls at King’s Park this evening.

Adding to the uncertainty is the decision at Loftus to bring in a new coach, Pine Pienaar, for the Currie Cup competition though it is unlikely that he will tamper radically with the Bulls’ tried and tested playing style.

The teams are both missing14 players who are either in the Springbok Tri-Nations tour squad or have been put on ice by coach Peter de Villiers. Other Super Rugby squad members have either been injured or have opted to strut their stuff on the overseas stage and this has reduced today’s contest to a test of player depth in each province.

The ability of the opposing coaches, the Sharks’ John Plumtree and Pienaar, in mixing and matching existing and emerging talent, and in producing cohesive units after just a week of preparation, will be decisive.

Plumtree has been in this position before and flourished. The Sharks have for the last three years started campaigns with young, diluted teams but have ended the season top of the Currie Cup log, winning the finals in 2008 and 2010.

The Sharks coach has the necessary experience in the back division with Frenchman Frederic Michalak at flyhalf and an exciting centre pairing of former Springboks Meyer Bosman and Marius Joubert outside him.

Ironically, the midfield bothered the Sharks during Super Rugby, but the smooth-passing Bosman improved as he settled and, with the threatening Joubert now outside him, the area could develop into one of strength during the Currie Cup.

The new faces in the Sharks backline are the pair of 21-year-olds, scrumhalf Ross Cronje and wing Mark Richards. Cronje, of course, still has time on his side, but his career has stalled since he was included in the Sharks Super Rugby squad of 2009 and he now has his chance to kickstart it.

Both coaches have dipped into the junior ranks to plug yawning gaps. The Bulls have been hardest hit in the tight five — they are without eight senior locks and front-rowers — and at scrumhalf while the Sharks’s depth has been stretched with the loss of three wings, three locks and four front-rowers.

Pienaar admitted there were problems.

“We have a few new combinations and, like the Sharks, we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. But we’ll be focused on our own game this weekend and it promises to be a tough encounter.

“It’s never easy in Durban and we last won a Currie Cup game there five seasons ago. The Sharks are also the reigning champs, so it’s a difficult game to start the season. Still, we have confidence in our structures.”

Plumtree said there was excitement among the Sharks with the youngsters bringing energy and enthusiasm to the squad.

“This is a real opportunity for our supporters to see our depth and some of the youngsters in action. The challenge is bringing them all together as a group.”

A month ago the Sharks ended the Bulls’ Super Rugby dream with an upset win at Loftus and, while the personnel has since changed dramatically, they will be hoping to recapture the mood of that night.

This time the odds are more in the their favour with home-ground advantage, perhaps a slight edge in the tight five, and experience at flyhalf and in the midfield suggesting a narrow Sharks’ win. But until we see how the rookies in both sides respond under heavy fire, this really is crystal-ball time.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15. Stefan Terblanche, 14. Louis Ludik, 13. Marius Joubert, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Mark Richards, 10. Frederic Michalak, 9. Ross Cronje, 8. Keegan Daniel (captain), 7. Marcell Coetzee, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Ross Skeate, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Eugene van Staden.

Replacements: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Dale Chadwick, 18. Jan Andre Marais, 19. Francois Kleinhans, 20. Jacobus Reinach, 21. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22. Sibusiso Sithole.

Bulls: 15. Jurgen Visser, 14. Gerhard van den Heever, 13. Stephan Dippenaar, 12. Stefan Watermeyer, 11. Akona Ndungane, 10. Francois Brummer, 9. Dustin Jinka, 8. Gerrit-Jan van Velze, 7. Dewald Potgieter, 6. Derick Kuün, 5. Juandré Kruger, 4. Fudge Mabeta, 3. Rossouw de Klerk, 2. Gary Botha (captain), 1. Corné Fourie.

Replacements: 16. Willie Wepener, 17. Juan Schoeman, 18. Okkie Kruger, 19. CJ Stander, 20. Lohan Jacobs, 21. Marnitz Boshoff, 22. Francois Venter.

Referee: Jaco Peyper

Kick-off: 5.05 pm.

Curtain-raisers: 12.45 Sharks U19 vs Blue Bulls; 2.40 pm Sharks U21 vs Blue Bulls.

Today’s other Currie matches (home team first): Western Province vs Griquas (3 pm); Free State vs Leopards (3 pm).

 

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