Sharks need to make radical improvement against Lions

2015-02-19 00:00

THE changes will be limited but the improvement will have to be radical if the Sharks are to topple the Lions in Saturday night’s Super Rugby outing at King’s Park.

The Sharks played the perfect hosts at the weekend when they made it easy for the enthusiastic Cheetahs as they were outscored by four tries to two. The Sharks did little right on the night but most ­worrying was their lack of vigour, particularly as their physical approach had been highlighted as one of their strengths.

The Lions will seek to emulate the ­Cheetahs and test the Sharks in similar ­areas on Saturday — at the scrum, the breakdown, in their support play and by attacking space — but they will be even more threatening.

The good news for the King’s Park crowd is that the Sharks have left room aplenty for improvement and they will surely be better on Saturday night with the return from injury of the combative Bismarck du Plessis lifting their commitment and intensity.

And, because it was the first outing and preparation was limited to one pre-season friendly, head coach Gary Gold is certain to give nearly all the players another chance to prove that last Saturday’s limp efforts were not an accurate reflection of their potential.

The one unforced change could come on the flank where the bruising Jean ­Deysel, who sparked the pack into life when he came on as a replacement against the Cheetahs, could take over from ­Renaldo Bothma.

The injury to loosehead Beast Mtawarira has reopened the door for the ­19-year-old Thomas du Toit, who burst on the scene last year but failed to gain ­selection for the Cheetahs game.

Assistant coach Sean Everitt said this week the 120 kg Du Toit would be in the squad for Saturday but would not start.

“Losing a Springbok tight forward [Mtawarira] is obviously a blow to any team but we back our squad and we’ve got a guy like Dale Chadwick as well as ­Thomas du Toit who came out really well last year in his debut in Super Rugby.”

While many were surprised that the Sharks opted for the past (discarded ­England prop Matt Stevens) instead of the future (Du Toit) on the bench against the Cheetahs, Everitt defended the selection.

“With the depth we’ve got in the ­front-row somebody has to lose out. ­Initially it was Thomas but it was never that he wasn’t going to play Super Rugby. Now that he’s got an opportunity he will feature off the bench and we’ll take it from there next week.”

While the talented Du Toit has played most of his rugby at loosehead, there is a growing feeling, even among some ­members of the Springbok hierarchy, that he could be even more effective on the tighthead.

Meanwhile, the Sharks’ Japan-based personnel are gradually dribbling back to Durban. Coach Gold was the first, Deysel followed just over a week ago, former Springbok Ryan Kankowski arrived at practice on Monday and Test players Frans Steyn and JP PIetersen are expected back in a fortnight.

Kankowski’s career has stalled in recent years and he has struggled for the Sharks after stints in Japan. It is unlikely he will be rushed into action, but he does provide Gold with backrow options.

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