Kankowski back to boost Sharks

2013-01-26 00:00

RANGY Springbok number eight Ryan Kankowski will return to Durban from Japan early next month to add to the Sharks’ remarkable depth in the backrow.

Kankowski was released by the Sharks to spend six months with Toyota Verblitz club in Japan last year and missed the Currie Cup season. But Kankowski committed himself to the Sharks for this year’s Super Rugby tournament and he is expected back in Durban early next month.

“It’s all on track,” Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl told the Weekend Witness yesterday. “As far as I know he should be back within the first two weeks of February.”

Kankowski said that he “hoped to be back with the Sharks by February 7”.

The Sharks’ season starts with a warm-up match against the Leopards at Woodburn Stadium in Pietermaritzburg on February 8. The Sharks then play a second friendly against the Pumas in Nelspruit on February 15 before opening their Super Rugby season against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on February 23.

Kankowski (27) will join four other Springbok loose forwards — Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel, Marcell Coet­zee and Keegan Daniel — in the Sharks squad. Jacques Botes and the talented young Tera Mtembu provide coach John Plumtree with further options.

Kankow­ski enjoyed an excellent run in Super Rugby last year and proved a remarkably successful lineout leader (and jumper) in the latter stages of the tournament. He is expected to share the number eight duties with captain Keegan Daniel.

Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford said yesterday that the abundance of backrow talent would prove invaluable during the marathon season which stretches all the way to the final playoffs in August.

“You need quality back-up in every position if you are to be competitive in this competition,” Bashford said. “We know we will have to keep rotating players if we are to keep them fit and fresh for month after month.”

Plumtree agrees.

“If you look at our squad, there is good depth in the backline, the second-row and among the loose forwards.

“There is really good competition for places and with the two trial games coming up in February, we’ll get the opportunity to see how everyone performs.”

He said he was delighted with the impact that his two signings from the Lions, flyhalf Butch James and lock Franco van der Merwe, had made on the squad.

“Franco is really enjoying it here. It is different to what he is used to, but he looks to have settled in well. Butch knows our system and how we operate here and it’s really just coming back to the family for him. He’s been great.”

Plumtree said the pre-season preparations had proceeded smoothly.

“We had a really solid block [of training] before Christmas and the boys came back after the break in pretty good condition.”

Plumtree said that the pre-season had not only concentrated on fitness and conditioning. “There has been game plan work as well. We’ve looked at changing a little of what we do — nothing drastic — but just shifting the emphasis slightly.”

The Sharks coach said that involving former All Black flyhalf and Lions coach Carlos Spencer in early-season preparations had been particularly beneficial.

“The players have really enjoyed having Carlos here. I’d like him here a little longer but he has family back in Joburg.

He will help us through the course of the season and he’ll come down to Durban periodically.

“He will be good for not only our flyhalves but all our backs and will work on our kicking game.”

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