In the mud with juniors

2009-01-23 00:00

JOHN Plumtree and his coaching staff take a peep into the future when the Sharks’ second-stringers take on the Pumas in a pre-season friendly in Witbank this evening.

Only one player in today’s starting line-up, Springbok captain and hooker John Smit, who is re-inventing himself as a tighthead, is likely to play against the Stormers in the Super 14 opener in Cape Town on February 14.

But the outing is crucial in assessing the depth in the squad and, as injuries will inevitably take their toll during the hard grind of 13 games in 14 weeks, a number of those playing today will see Super 14 action during the campaign.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for the youngsters to put up their hands and play themselves into Super 14 contention,” assistant coach Grant Bashford said yesterday.

“We have high quality cover in most areas of the team but one or two injuries can suddenly open the door. It’s just not feasible for any of the franchises to have international players on stand by in all positions and at some stage exciting young talent will get a chance.

And that’s what this friendly is about, finding out who is ready to step up and play at a higher level.”

And heading the list of challenger for a place in the Super 14 squad is Johan Snyman.

The two-metre, 22-year-old, who has added bulk to his height, spent last year in New Zealand where Plumtree wanted him to gain in experience at Murray Mexted’s rugby academy.

While his team-mates back home were taking the Sharks to the Currie Cup, Snyman was playing for unfancied Hawke’s Bay and helping them to the semi-final of New Zealand’s provincial competition where they were beaten by Richie McCaw’s Crusaders.

“The experience in New Zealand was one of the best of my life,” says Snyman and the Hurricanes were so taken with his form that they wanted to sign him for the Super 14.

“My game was a little loose at one stage, but I picked up my work-rate in New Zealand.”

Steven Sykes and captain Johann Muller are certain to lock the scrum against the Stormers but, with reserve lock Albert van den Berg recovering from surgery, Snyman could find himself on the bench though his lock partner today, Alistair Hargreaves, is also a candidate.

Sykes, who was named on the bench for this Pumas game, had to receive stitches after taking a hard blow to the head at practice on Thursday and Bashford said the lock may miss today’s trip to Witbank.

The only other Sharks players certain to see action against the Stormers are on the bench. They are halfbacks Ruan Pienaar and Rory Kockott and Plumtree said both would be given a run in the second half.

A new talent in the team is Falcons flyhalf Len Olivier though Plumtree is using him at fullback. Monty Dumond will start at flyhalf.

The Pumas have spread the net during the off-season and today will field a team containing eight new caps in five Eagles, a Leopard and two former Falcons. But Sharks eyes will be on Smit and the blossoming Durban talent.

The match in Witbank kicks off at 5 pm.

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