Sharks come out of a time machine as a number of old, familiar faces return

2015-03-06 00:00

THE Sharks seem to have come out of a time machine as a number of old, familiar faces are back in the starting XV to take on the Stormers in Cape Town tomorrow.

Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen and Ryan Kankowski were all part of the 2008 side that broke a nine-year Currie Cup drought, beating the Bulls 14-8 in the final in Durban. The trio are in the starting lineup along with Springbok flank Willem Alberts, who plays his first match of the season having finally recovered from a hamstring injury.

Steyn and Pietersen combine in the Sharks midfield in an unsurprising move from director of rugby Gary Gold. He opted for the experienced Bok pair on the basis of their match fitness and form in training.

“They’re hugely experienced Springboks and they’re coming back to a group of players they’ve been with for a long time. And it’s not as if they haven’t been playing rugby. They came straight back in because they’ve been playing rugby week in and week out in Japan,” Gold said.

Steyn’s return is particularly exciting and the burly centre has come back to South Africa in top shape — a feat he couldn’t get right while playing in France a few years ago.

“Half of Frans has come back from Japan so I’m not sure we’re going to use him as a battering ram,” Gold joked.

“But his play-making ability is exceptional, we want to try and play a brand of rugby where we have two first receivers, Frans has played 10 as well and that makes a big difference.”

Pietersen’s move to 13 means Waylon Murray unfortunately falls out of the match-day squad. He has been a solid feature in his comeback year and Gold praised the 28-year-old — calling his return this year a “fantastic surprise”.

“The only reason Waylon falls out of the match day 23 is because we need versatility on the bench to cover a number of positions.”

Murray also misses out sharing in Kankowski’s milestone this weekend as the latter earns his 100th Super Rugby cap — having joined the side alongside the eighthman back in 2006.

“We were talking to him about it this week and we can’t believe he’s already got to 100 caps. It’s incredible — he’s had a fantastic run here at the Sharks and he moves into an exclusive club with the Du Plessis brothers, Frans, Odwa and Beast and he is very proud of the achievement,” Gold said.

“He’s had some mixed fortunes at international level but he’s been a stalwart here. He’s a fantastic footballer and I’m really happy he can achieve such a milestone.”

The front-row changes this weekend with Matt Stevens and Thomas du Toit earning their first starts of the season, while Gold admitted not picking Jannie du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira was difficult but necessary.

“Jannie was primarily rested due to the Saru directive. I would have preferred not to rest him and Beast but it is a directive and we’ve signed up to it. We’d all love to see the Boks win the World Cup so it’s a small sacrifice.”

Even without his front-row brothers in crime, captain Bismarck du Plessis is fired up for another South African derby.

Du Plessis and Victor Matfield reacquainted themselves with a bout of handbags last weekend, but the Sharks skipper said it was all in the heat of battle.

“I had a famous coach who said rugby is a contact sport, but so is dancing as well. I will play as hard as I can for every minute I am on the field. Victor is a great friend of mine and we had a nice chat on Sunday morning — it’s what happens on the field and I think it will be exactly the same this Saturday.”

While there are likely to be some hard hits, Gold is expecting the Stormers to continue evolving their playing style.

“Gert Smal spoke about it when he started there that they want to be a team that had a better balance and more of an attacking game. I think with the back three they’ve got, they’re fiercely dangerous … And their scrum has improved significantly so all round they are definitely a much better prospect.”

The Sharks face the Stormers tomorrow at 7.10 pm at Newlands, Cape Town.

Sharks team (15-1): SP Marais, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Matt Stevens, Bismarck du Plessis (c), Thomas du Toit.

Substitutes: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Marco Wentzel, Renaldo Bothma, Conrad Hoffmann, Andre Esterhuizen, Jack Wilson.

Stormers team (15-1): Cheslin Kolbe, Johnny Kotze, Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Dillyn Leyds, Demetri Catrakilis, Nic Groom, Duane Vermeulen (c), Siya Kolisi, Nizaam Carr, Manuel Carizza, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch, Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff.

Substitutes: Neil Rautenbach, Alistair Vermaak, Frans Malherbe, Jean Kleyn, Schalk Burger, Louis Schreuder, Kurt Coleman, Huw Jones.



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