Super Rugby

Sharks well geared to deal with temporary Makazole Mapimpi vacancy

Makazole Mapimpi. (Gallo Images)
Makazole Mapimpi. (Gallo Images)

Service toward the business end of Super Rugby 2021 by key attack weapon Makazole Mapimpi ... rather than no service at all.

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That is what the Sharks have sensibly decided is a good enough outcome from the confirmed decision now to release the electric Springbok left wing for a "loan-based sabbatical" of sorts for several months in Japanese rugby.

Mdantsane-born Mapimpi, 29, has had some two and a half seasons on the Durban books since his switch from the Cheetahs at the end of 2017, and been a valuable asset.

But in a compromise move very recently, the Sharks have agreed to let him earn some lucrative foreign money with NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes (henceforth to have compatriot Johan Ackermann as their head coach) for a single season there.

It means they will get Mapimpi, a standout presence in the memorable RWC 2019 final, back in the autumn (reportedly at some point in April) of the 2021 campaign.

Should Super Rugby be played at all next year, and return to its most familiar scheduling course, it is clear that the Sharks will have to make do without him for at least the first half or even two thirds of their ordinary-season itinerary, before infusing him as they get a bit closer to the all-important final straight.

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In the meantime, attention turns to how they plug their No 11 gap both for early next season and for any domestic rugby activity that the crippling coronavirus pandemic may allow - possibly a rare, virtually summer Currie Cup? - in what's left of troubling 2020.

Fortunately, at least as things stand, the KwaZulu-Natalians seem quite well-equipped to make do without their Bok first choice.

They’ll still have robust young S'bu Nkosi operating on the wide right, and pushing Cheslin Kolbe as fiercely as possible for the national No 14 jersey, while the vacancy on the left would be capably filled by either of the likes of veteran Lwazi Mvovo or Madosh Tambwe ... unless someone emerges powerfully from their more junior-based ranks, of course.

Tambwe, perhaps significantly, was one of the Sharks' backline substitutes when they beat fierce local rivals the Stormers 24-14 just before the March lockdown, and the livewire, Kinshasa-born athlete's capture from the Lions ahead of the current campaign looks increasingly astute under the circumstances ... he has plenty to offer to their up-tempo brand of play and possesses a great nose for the tryline.

But Mvovo, albeit slightly past his peak having recently turned 34, still has pace on his side, a good general sense of back-three play due to his stints at fullback, and the additional experience that comes with 17 international caps.

The Sharks will miss Mapimpi for a while ... but their covering options seem reassuring enough.

*Rob Houwing is Sport24's chief writer. Follow him on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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