- Sharks back rower Phepsi Buthelezi said the Durban side might not have the bulkiest loose-forwards in the country but they punched well above their weight.
- The Sharks have changed tact from the time the Du Preez brothers, Dan and Jean-Luc, bossed the back of the scrum.
- Buthelezi said he appreciated the youth focus in head coach Sean Everitt’s team selection.
Sharks back rower Phepsi Buthelezi said the Durban side might not have the bulkiest loose-forwards in the country but they punched well above their weight.
The Sharks have survived on relatively lighter, fleet-footed, ball-playing loose-forwards who have seen them in great stead, especially earlier this year, after Sikhumbuzo Notshe moved there from Western Province.
It’s quite the change of tact from the time the Du Preez brothers, Dan and Jean-Luc, bossed the back of the scrum, with their traditional South African pure beef style of forward play.
Buthelezi, however, leaned more towards what he’s seen at the Shark Tank as a possible recipe for success.
"The Sharks are very blessed with loose-forwards," he said.
"I think we’ve probably got some of the best loose-forwards in the country. Most of us are probably not as big as the other loose-forwards in the other teams.
"We are guys that generally like to play with ball in hand, we are very fast and very evasive and we’ve also got guys that are very good on the ground, which helps our game plan.
"Playing alongside Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Henco Venter, guys that have been around and have done their time and accumulated so much experience – being able to learn from them and grow – is really massive for me.
"We all know how amazing Notshe has been this year and to learn from a guy like that is a massive opportunity for me."
The former SA Under-20 captain has been used as both a blindside flank and eighthman during Super Rugby Unlocked, playing well enough to force head coach Sean Everitt to find a place for him in the starting XV weekly.
Gradually, he has turned his potential into tangible, awesome performances in the senior team.
The Sharks have pinned their future hopes on young guns like him, JJ van der Mescht and Dylan Richardson, who are all 21.
Buthelezi said he appreciated the faith shown in youth.
"It’s very good and it’s something that we really appreciate as youngsters," said Buthelezi.
"Especially to be backed in such a big game against the Cheetahs, who hadn’t lost a game yet up to that point. We know how exciting the Cheetahs are as a team.
"And to be able to have the opportunity to run out again, as youngsters looking to grow in this union and take this union forward, we appreciated that from coach Sean.
"The guys went out there to make sure they put their hands up and get the job done for the union."
As for which position he prefers, No 7 or 8?
"Where the Sharks need me, I’ll always be willing to play there for the team," Buthelezi said.
"But I would say, getting a chance at No 7 earlier in the season was probably really good for me to be able to see and experience the game from a different perspective.
"We all know that for a South African No 7, you need to be big, tall and physical. You’re basically the main ball-carrier.
"Defensively, your role changes quite a bit, you’re not always going around the corner but you’re mostly keeping the width on the blind.
"I needed to make those kinds of minor adjustments and I was able to make them.
"I prefer No 8, especially going forward, because I think I am better in the role of playing the link between the forwards and backs.
"At No 8 I am able to play generally in the wider channels. I feel like that’s where my strengths are. I definitely don’t mind playing No 7 but, looking at playing for the Boks and stuff like that, No 8 would be the better position."
Buthelezi is expected to start again against Griquas on Friday night (19:00 kick-off). Everitt will name his squad on Wednesday.