Depleted but determined Sharks face Leopards with confidence

2009-08-07 00:00

IT is a reflection of the depth in Sharks rugby, and the commitment and talent of their young reserves, that a largely second-string outfit with a caretaker coach can trek off to face the Leopards in a Currie Cup match at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg tonight with their heads high.

The loss of Bok wing Odwa Ndungane and goalkicking scrumhalf Rory Kockott to injury this week has left the Sharks without a dozen of their first-choice selections, though this has has been off-set by the inclusion of their major signing, Argentinian flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez. Still, a trip to the platteland to play the fired-up locals on a cold night and on a hard field with a depleted team would usually be cause for concern.

But the Sharks, in dumping the Free Staters in the wet of Bloemfontein a week ago, underlined the depth in the squad and the determination of their young players to succeed. A core of experienced players remains, and Stefan Terblanche, Andries Strauss, Skipper Badenhorst, Steven Sykes, Albert van den Berg and a quality back row led by the physical Jean Deysel provide the hard edge to the team.

And of course the Sharks have no ordinary caretaker coach this week. With John Plumtree back briefly in New Zealand, the former All Black coach John Mitchell has taken charge and the Sharks will have been kept to the straight and narrow. Mitchell is one of only three players to have coached, captained and played for the All Blacks and, according to assistant coach Grant Bashford, his assistance in helping the young front-row (the Sharks are without four Bok props today) has been invaluable.

Two Leopard veterans, former captain André Swanepoel and lock Draad Linde, return today as the home team look to break their poor run, which has seen them losing at home to the Lions (19-40) and away games to WP (48-7), Griquas (36-11) and Boland (26-18). They will be hungry to start winning in front of their home crowd and a contest against the Currie Cup champions is certain to bring out the best in them.

The Sharks, if they are to avoid one of those undignified and bruising dogfights against a desperate home team, need to take charge at forward from the start, play a sensible game in the Leopards’ half and ease the pressure on their backs. Otherwise if could still be a long night.

Teams

Leopards

Russell Jeacocks; Jovan Bowles, Deon van Rensburg, Berndt Theissinger, Jan van Zyl; Clayton Durand, Michael Bondesio; RW Kember, Wilhelm Koch (c), André Swanepoel, Draad Linde, Rudi Mathee, Os van der Walt, Gavin Williamson, Divan Kotze.

Replacements: Pellow van der Westhuizen, Philip Lemmer, Ligtoring Landman, Bennie Adams, Theo van Wyk, Shuaib Samaai, Danie Dames.

Sharks

Stefan Terblanche (c), Chris Jordaan, Andries Strauss, Riaan Swanepoel, Lwazi Mvovo, Juan Hernandez, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Keegan Daniel, Albert van den Berg, Steven Sykes, Wiehahn Herbst, Skipper Badenhorst, Patric Cilliers

Replacements: Craig Burden, Dale Chadwick, Michael Rhodes, Jacques Botes, Ross Cronje, Guy Cronje, Waylon Murray.

Kick-off: 7 pm.

In other Currie Cup games today, unbeaten log-leaders Griquas take on Western Province in Kimberley (3 pm) while the Blue Bulls meet the struggling Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein (7 pm) and the Lions travel to Wellington to play Boland (3.30 pm.

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