Durban - There is understandable disquiet in Durban at the news that two Sharks stalwarts will be heading overseas at the end of the season, but the loss of Akker van der Merwe and Robert du Preez might not be the disaster it could have been a few years ago.
It was announced earlier this week that the Bok duo will be joining Sale Sharks, where Du Preez sojourned during the summer, at the end of the current Super Rugby season.
Sharks lock Ruan Botha, who captained the side last year and himself spent the off-season playing in Japan, made a good point when he pointed out that the two players will still be in the Sharks set-up for their challenge for the Super Rugby honours at the culmination of what coach Robert du Preez always described as a three-year plan.
And their presence will provide an opportunity for the players who will be thrust into regular starting roles next year to learn from them and grow.
"It is a career that decision that is made, you have to make the best decision for yourself," Botha told SuperSport.com.
"They will still be here until the end of Super Rugby, and knowing them both they will be giving their all. We have a lot of young players experiencing their first season of Super Rugby, and they will learn from the guys who are going and be better equipped for future challenges because of it. The mindset is that they will leave the Sharks in a better place.
"With the team we have now we have lots of potential. Those guys will get a start this year and will be ready when the time comes to fill in for the guys who are going out."
Botha might have been laughed at had he said that a few years ago. But after a period where it malfunctioned, the Sharks’ pipeline of youngsters coming through the system appears to be back up and running, as evidenced by the excellent performances of the Sharks under-19 side last year. There are also some prodigiously talented youngsters coming through the schools system.
Gargantuan lock JJ van der Mescht and No 8 Phendulani Buthelezi are just two recent KZN Schools products who were tried by Sharks coach Robert du Preez in the pre-season. Buthelezi has been on the Sharks bench and has visited Singapore as part of a Super Rugby team and he only turns 20 at the end of May.
One consequence of Du Preez's departure should be that there will be more pressure to give Curwin Bosch a run at flyhalf during the coming months. The coach intended to do so in the opening game against the Sunwolves but had to change plans because of an injury Bosch sustained in a pre-season warmup game.
There are still question marks over Bosch’s defensive abilities at flyhalf but he has been working at his known weakness and the only way to properly test his progress and ready him for 2020, when he might be the Sharks’ spearhead at No 10, is to give him playing opportunities there.
When it comes to Van der Merwe's replacement, young Kerron van Vuuren is currently the back-up and the played through the pre-season in the absence of Chiliboy Ralepelle (assumed to be injured), and subsequent to the departure of Franco Marais.
Right now the Sharks have a potential problem if Van der Merwe is injured as Van Vuuren is the only back-up, but Sharks rugby sources believe that recent South African Schools hooker Dylan Richardson, a Kearsney College old boy, is a world class player in the making. He is still in his teens now but there is a view that he could mature quickly and who knows maybe next year he could be a capable replacement for the man known as the Angry Warthog.