Sharks’ untested Steyn-Whitehead link to face Bulls

2012-07-04 00:00

FRANS Steyn is back, but fellow-Springboks Pat Lambie and Willem Alberts could miss Friday night’s crunch Super Rugby derby against the Bulls at King’s Park.

The Sharks’ Super Rugby challenge will be over for another year if they fail to beat the Bulls, but injuries have hit them at the worst possible time with Alberts, Lambie, lock Steven Sykes and SA U20 centre Paul Jordaan all in doubt.

Coach John Plumtree said yesterday that the influential Alberts, who injured a knee in the second Test against against England, is still “very doubtful.”

“Pat will be tested again, but he is also struggling and so is Steven Sykes.” Plumtree said Jordaan, who missed the recent Baby Boks’ Junior World Cup win over the All Blacks because of a hamstring strain, had aggravated the injury. “Paul was looking very good then tweaked his hammy this morning in training, so he will be assessed tomorrow. So we have a few injuries.”

The Sharks coach said he had options at lock where Sykes is battling.

“Pieter-Steph du Toit [SA U20 flank] impressed at lock in training this week, Jandré Marais has been with us the whole Super Rugby campaign, so he knows what we do, and Peet Marais impressed in John Smit’s game. “Those three locks are going to get plenty of time in the Currie Cup, but if we have to use them this week, they just have to step up.”

Plumtree confirmed that Frans Steyn would return to the Sharks midfield after spending the last three years playing for Racing Metro in France. He will play at inside centre with Tim Whitehead taking over from Jordaan outside him.

“We’re lucky to have Frans partnering Tim in the midfield. I’m excited about that combination. It’s new, and they don’t really know each other yet, but I hope they will settle in quickly and complement each other’s skills.”

Steyn enjoyed a roller-coaster ride during June, playing in the first two Tests and helping the Boks take the series against England before dashing off to get married. “Yeah, it’s been a hectic few weeks,” he said yesterday. “We had to pack up [in France], plan and prepare for a wedding and play in the Test series. But now I hope I can concentrate on the rugby again.”

He said the Sharks were excited about playing in a big game against the Bulls.

“It has been some time, but when I got back on Monday it didn’t feel like I had been away long. It’s interesting being back, meeting some of the young guys. There are a lot of young players and JP [Pietersen] and I are suddenly the seniors in the backline, which is quite scary. So, yes, we will need to step up on the weekend.”

Steyn said he had kept up with the Sharks’ progress in Super Rugby and watched their games on television while in France.

“The young guys have been playing some great rugby, especially the young locks, who have had to perform under a lot of pressure. It’s always good to see young guys coming through and that’s a good sign for years to come.”

He said the physical challenge against the Bulls would be immense.

“I’m definitely going to be sore after this game, but I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been a while since I played against Wynand Olivier and Morné Steyn, so it’s a huge challenge for me, but one I’m really looking forward to.”

He said he regarded Wynand Olivier as one of the better centres in world rugby. “These are exciting times for Tim and myself and hopefully we can make the Sharks supporters proud.

Steyn said he was settling in quickly with the squad.

“There are still a few moves I’m learning so I’m studying the paperwork.

“The whole team is looking forward to Friday and it’s a huge challenge for us to see if the team can do well, not only for this Super Rugby tournament but also for next year.

“This is going to be a big step and will show us just where we are at the moment and where we are going in the future.”

The match kicks off at 7.10 pm on Friday and South African referee Jaco Peyper will be in charge.

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