Returning Springboks give Sharks depth in almost every position

2009-09-15 00:00

HEAD coach John Plumtree faces the challenge of integrating returning Springboks into the successful Sharks starting line-up for Saturday’s Currie Cup game against the rejuvenated Free State Cheetahs at King’s Park.

The young Sharks, without nine Springboks, have performed beyond expectations and head the Currie Cup log after their weekend win over the Blue Bulls in Pretoria.

The Springboks returned home last night after their triumphant Tri-Nations campaign

While a number of them will be desperate for a break after the most demanding of competitions, it seems certain that a couple will be in the Sharks’ starting line-up against the Free Staters while others could be used off the bench.

Plumtree will, of course, be concerned about disturbing the cohesion of a winning combination, but the return of the Boks does provide him with a number of options and provides him with depth in almost every position.

The players who have been heavily involved throughout the Tri-Nations, front-row forwards John Smit, Beast Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis, are those most obviously in need of a break.

Others who have played only bit parts, Adrian Jacobs, Jannie du Plessis and Ryan Kankowski, and perhaps even Ruan Pienaar and Odwa Ndungane, could be keen to return sooner rather than later.

Sharks captain and lock Johann Muller, who flew over as back-up to the injured Bakkies Botha but was not called up, seems certain to return for Saturday’s game.

Wing JP Pietersen, who left the Bok tour with a grade two hamstring strain after the Perth victory over Australia, is still two weeks away from making his return.

The Sharks picked up two injuries at Loftus with their consistent centre Riaan Swaanepoel (shoulder) and number eight Keegan Daniel (thumb) in doubt for Saturday.

Kankowski would be an obvious replacement for Daniel, while either Waylon Murray or Jacobs could replace Swanepoel.

Prop Patric Cilliers, who has also been nursing a knee injury, struggled through the Bulls game and he could be rested for Jannie du Plessis.

The big question, of course, is how Plumtree will use Ruan Pienaar, the yo-yo man of South African rugby, now that Argentinian Juan Hernandez is starting to make his mark at flyhalf.

Pienaar moved to flyhalf this season at the request of the Springbok selectors, but Morne Steyn has now nailed down that Test spot and Pienaar, who was also switched to fullback for two Tri-Nations Tests, is again in limbo.

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