Bok boost gives Sharks options

2008-08-05 00:00

THE Sharks are planning to include Test players Ruan Pienaar, Francois Steyn and Frederic Michalak in their starting line-up to face Western Province in the Currie Cup match at Newlands on Friday night.

Pienaar and Steyn, arguably the most versatile players in South African rugby, were surprisingly released by Bok coach Peter de Villiers this week — the talk is that national selectors Peter Jooste and Ian McIntosh were not even consulted — and the Sharks have benefitted.

While the Boks have no specialist back-up for Butch James at flyhalf, the return of Pienaar and Steyn, along with flyhalf Michalak and probably centre Brad Barritt, has provided the Sharks with an abundance of options.

Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford said yesterday that Michalak, who has been nursing a a thigh injury, has trained well and should be ready for Friday.

“Brad (Barritt) also ran freely and the medical staff has cleared him to play for 40 minutes off the bench.”

The indications are that Pienaar will play at scrumhalf, partnering Michalak at halfback, with Steyn at inside centre.

Bashford said that tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis has a calf injury and will face a fitness test, but the Sharks have the ideal replacement in Bok prop BJ Botha.

The Sharks have a two-week break after the Province game and, while they may lose players to the Bok Tri-Nations squad, the likes of Rory Kockott and Ryan Kankwoski will be back from injury.

“Frans (Steyn) and Ruan (Pienaar) are keen to play. Ruan really enjoyed the 80 minutes he got against Lions. I’m sure they are disappointed about being left out of the Springbok squad, but they are excited about the challenge.”

Bashford said that the Sharks had “moved on” from the emphatic win over Griquas, “though the performance brought us a lot of confidence”.

“The team showed a lot of character under pressure to come through and there was a special feeling in the changeroom afterwards.

“Playing Western Province is another challenge, but the guys can give it absolutely everything, knowing that they have a week’s leave after that match.”

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