Vast choice of Sharks proves tricky

2009-01-13 00:00

THE deadline for naming their Super 14 squad has been extended by two weeks and Sharks head coach John Plumtree has only to name his 30 players on February 7.

Plumtree will have little trouble naming a powerful squad, and he has depth in all areas, but he will be tested on a weekly basis when selecting his starting XV.

First, he has to settle on a captain. John Smit, who has led the Springboks with such distinction, seems a shoo-in, but Plumtree will have to play musical chairs in the front-row with the burly forward to accommodate him in the starting line-up.

The Sharks have another readymade captain in Bok lock Johann Muller, who led the team last year and lifted the Currie Cup at the end of the season and he will prove ideal cover for Smit on what will be a long, demanding campaign.

Smit displayed outstanding form, as both captain and hooker, in the Springboks’ thumping of England at Twickenham in the final Test late last year. But, of course, the Sharks also have the Boks first-choice hooker in Bismarck du Plessis, who was injured during the November tour.

Smit, who was chosen for the tour as the Bok tighthead, is certain to see action there again for the Sharks this season, while also rotating with first-choice Du Plessis at hooker. With another Bok tighthead, Jannie du Plessis, also in the squad along with the rejuvenated Dean Carstens, Beast Mtawarira and the young Patric Cilliers, Plumtree has options.

Plumtree will want his captain to start most of the Super 14 matches and quite how he shuffles his front-row resources this season will provide an intriguing sideshow to team selection.

The other major talking point is at flyhalf, where Plumtree says he plans to remain flexible and use both Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn in that position, depending on the demands of the moment.

Pienaar, who wants to play at scrumhalf but has been press-ganged into the flyhalf role by national coach Peter de Villiers, played well in that position in the UK when the Boks played to their structures. Steyn had his chance, and fluffed his lines when turning out for the British Barbarians against the Wallabies. Steyn is a prodigious and supremely confident talent, and it is unfair to judge him on that one showing, but at this stage in his blossoming career he seems better suited to inside centre or fullback.

Plumtree said Pienaar is happy to switch from scrumhalf to flyhalf because of the opening in that position in the Bok team, while Steyn is also keen to nail down the No. 12 (inside centre) berth in the national team.

The Sharks coach said that the Sharks will start the season with Pienaar at flyhalf, but injuries, form and match circumstances may bring changes.

The Sharks could field a potent backline of Stefan Terblanche, Odwa Ndungane, Adrian Jacobs, Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Ruan Pienaar and Rory Kockott. This would leave Waylon Murray to provide cover at centre and wing.

All the franchises have to submit a squad of 30 by early February, but they may bring in players not on the list on condition they have not been selected in any of the other Super 14 squads.

The Sharks open their Super 14 programme against the Stormers in Cape Town on February 14 and then face the Lions in Durban a week later before travelling to Australasia.

The Sharks are at a camp at Michaelhouse in the midlands this week.

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