Durban - Sharks coach Robert du Preez could justifiably have been the angriest and most frustrated man in South Africa when the SA 'A' side completed their two match series triumph against the French Barbarians last Friday night.
A report on SuperSport.com indicates that the sight of his big lock Ruan Botha trudging off the field after being red carded for dangerous play at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto should have made Du Preez see red as Botha has been in outstanding form and was going to be an important player for the Sharks as the business end of the season approaches.
Du Preez’s worst fears would have been confirmed when a disciplinary committee slapped a three match ban on Botha. That effectively means that Botha will miss both two remaining league matches as well as the quarter-final that is now looming large as an important date in the Sharks’ future.
The timing of the Botha incident was particularly unfortunate as, aside from the continued unavailability of the appointed captain for the season, Patrick Lambie, the Sharks were looking forward to being at full strength for the remaining part of their campaign.
Lambie’s continued absence should be off-set by the return of Curwin Bosch from junior international duty but the big gain for the Sharks is the fact that powerfully built centre Andre Esterhuizen has now served out the suspension he incurred for a dangerous tackle in the forgettable draw against the Rebels. His return to availability coincides with former SA under-20 captain Jeremy Ward’s recovery from a broken nose.
“We have some nice options at centre now, and one thing we can say about Andre is that he is extremely fit after six weeks when could do nothing other than run,” said Sharks defence coach Ryan Strudwick.
“We are in good shape, we know what we have to do in our last two games, which is to play extremely well so that we can build up confidence for the quarter-final.”
The Sharks face the Bulls at Kings Park on Friday and then go into a bye week before returning to their home venue to host the Lions in the last league game. The significance of that final match against the Lions could be determined by what happens in New Zealand earlier that weekend. It is still possible for the Sharks to end with a higher finishing position on the overall log than eighth, which could mean they travel to Johannesburg for their quarter-final rather than overseas.
Conversely, the Lions could be playing for top spot on the log if the Crusaders lose to the Hurricanes in Wellington, and the Sharks might then be happier to finish eighth as although it might sound like contorted logic, a 50 minute flight to Johannesburg has to be a better option than an 18 hour trip to New Zealand via Sydney.