New lock Franco van der Merwe bowls the Sharks over in fine display with bat and ball

2013-01-17 00:00

HE has only been in Durban a couple of weeks, but Lions lock Franco van der Merwe has already proved a match winner for the Sharks.

Van der Merwe’s early heroics came in the annual charity cricket match against the Dolphins at the weekend when he smashed the bowlers all over Kingsmead for the Sharks to record the most unlikely of wins.

Van der Merwe, of course, is in Durban to bolster the Sharks lineout, but his flamboyant batting earned him immediate brownie points with his team-mates and has lifted the mood in the squad.

(For the record, the Dolphins made 183 for five — David Miller 43 not out — in 20 overs and the Sharks chased down their target with three overs and four wickets to spare. Man of the match Van der Merwe followed an impressive bowling display with an undefeated 84 not out off just 27 balls with an astonishing eight sixes and six fours. The Dolphins, in defending their daunting total, apparently started in buoyant mood as Pat Lambie made 53 off 33 balls, but their smiles turned to frowns — and the bowling became increasingly faster — as Van der Merwe kept lashing the ball out of Kingsmead).

Some regarded the win as a triumph for the Sharks’ fighting spirit, others as a comment on the state of Dolphins’ cricket, but either way, coach John Plumtree will be hoping that Van der Merwe’s effort was a positive omen for the Super Rugby season.

The Sharks are looking to the two-metre tall, 114 kg Van der Merwe to add experience and expertise to their second row. The Sharks’ lineout, in spite of the loss of Alistair Hargreaves and Ross Skeate, performed well last season until the Currie Cup final when they were painfully exposed by the Western Province jumpers.

Plumtree has also lost former Bok lock Steven Sykes (to the Kings) and Van der Merwe will provide valuable support for the four talented young locks in the squad, Anton Bresler, Pieter-Steph du Toit and the Marais brothers, Jandre and Peet.

The 29-year-old Van der Merwe toured the UK with the Springboks in November and he has been a key member of the Lions pack in the recent season.

Sharks captain Keegan Daniel is delighted to have him on board.

“It’s good to have Franco here and he will add invaluable experience to the second row. You know we struggled a little there in the past. He’s captained the Lions and has been in the Springbok squad recently, so it’s good to have someone like that in the tight five.”

Daniel said there was a positive buzz in the squad ahead of the Super Rugby season, which starts with the warm-up match against the Leopards at Woodburn Stadium Pietermaritzburg on February 8.

The Sharks 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.

Daniel said the Sharks performed admirably in reaching two finals last year (in Super Rugby and the Currie Cup) but said the players were looking for greater consistency, particularly early in the season.

“We were consistent in that we made finals, but in terms of our overall performances we weren’t as consistent as we would have liked,” he added.

Former Bok and Sharks flyhalf Butch James, after years with Bath and the Lions, is back in Durban for a final fling and Daniel believes he will benefit the squad in a number of ways.

“Butch has been around, he’s been here before. He will fit back in easily and will add a lot of value.”

The Sharks captain is satisfied with the strength of his squad on paper.

“You can say it’s a great squad with good depth, but at the end of the day you’ve got to put it all together on the field.”

As Van der Merwe showed the Dolphins at Kingsmead on Sunday.

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