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Anybody got a spare lock?

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks on 4 Jul 2013 at 15:14
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As the Currie Cup season approaches, the Sharks find themselves in a real pickle when it comes to fit second row resources. With both Anton Bresler and Pieter-Steph du Toit out injured for the bulk of the season, there’s a mad dash going on in the background to find enough available locks to allow a decent matchday complement for the upcoming campaign.

I remember, a few years ago, writing an article in which I highlighted the superb second row depth that we had coming through in the province, boldly making a prediction that the Sharks surely wouldn’t want for quality lock forwards for several years to come. How, then, have we ended up in the situation where we’ve had to play a borrowed Lion in every Super Rugby game – and currently only have four contracted senior locks on our book, two of whom are injured and a further one who was hastily brought in from Griquas less than a fortnight ago? What’s more, during the course of this season alone we’ve seen one of the few we have, Jandre Marais, announce his decision to leave for France, while there remains considerable doubt about our ability to retain another, Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Where have all the locks gone? How is it that despite our youth programs, our Academy, our vast resources and everything else we have going for us, the Sharks simply cannot seem to attract and retain talent in the second row?

As I’m occasionally wont to do, I’ve decided to dig a little deeper and have compiled a list of virtually every guy who has played in the second row for the Sharks, at any level from under 19 up, over the last five years. Over the course of those five years – the “Plumtree Era”, if you will – 35 different players have been sourced, tried, tested and all bar 8 of them have either been discarded, or have opted to leave of their own volition. Of those 8, half are currently still on junior contracts, so there’s of course no guarantee that any will graduate to become senior team regulars. Of the 27 who are no longer with us, all bar three are still playing rugby. Only Johann Ackermann, AJ Venter and Albert van den Berg have retired, the rest have simply gone.

It’s quite interesting to divide these players into two quite clear “groups”. There are those who were brought in – often at considerable expense – only to move on shortly afterwards. I’m thinking of the likes of Gerhard Mostert and Ross Skeate, who were given chances ahead of local boys, but rather than opting to stay, rather went abroad. We have, of course, lost a few genuine “Sharks men” in their prime – I’m thinking Johann Muller and Steven Sykes – but by far the biggest group of players are those who have been forced to move on after being “found wanting” by the coaching staff. In short, I’ve identified in excess of 20 young locks, all of whom were brought in, groomed and then discarded. Now, I’m not saying for a moment that all of those boys would have made it, but surely if our development processes were working – and if the senior coaches were aligned with those processes and systems – we could surely have turned 5, or even 10, of those young locks into realistic senior options? Bear in mind that the Sharks don’t cast the net particularly widely to begin with, when offering junior contracts, making it all the more vital to get maximum “bang for buck” from each player that is brought in.

Locks at 2m tall or above are, in particular, at a real premium in Sharks country, with only du Toit (2.00m) and Stephan Lewies (2.02m) reaching that height. A lack of height in the lineout is something that is a real concern – and obviously you can’t coach a player to be taller – making it all the more disappointing that more couldn’t be done with the likes of Johan Schoonbee and Myles Tucker (each a whopping 2.06m), or that strong Lithuanian lock Karolis Navickas (2.02m) couldn’t get a look in after under 21 level. These are just a few examples. I’ll leave you to peruse the list below at your leisure and notice how many other provinces and teams seem to be profiting from the Sharks unwillingness to invest in developing second row talent.

Name Height Age Current location
Addo Wessels 1.96 22 Border
Lee Thompson 1.92 24 Bulls
Nqubeko Zulu 1.94 25 Bulls
Francois Robbertse 1.95 24 Club Rugby
Gerrit Fourie 1.95 23 Club Rugby
Nikolai Blignaut 1.93 28 Club Rugby
Paul Sanders 1.98 22 Club Rugby
Gerhard Mostert 1.99 28 France
Jandre Marais 1.98 24 France
Karolis Navickas 2.02 23 France
Ross Skeate 2.01 30 France
Johann Muller 2 33 Ireland
Meyer Swanepoel 1.98 24 Italy
Daniel Adongo 1.98 23 Kings
Steven Sykes 1.98 28 Kings
Kene Okafor 1.97 22 Leopards
Luvo Lusaseni 1.95 24 Leopards
JC Wasserman 1.98 22 Leopards
Johan Schoonbee 2.06 23 New Zealand
AJ Venter 1.98 40 Retired
Albert van den Berg 2.01 39 Retired
Johan Ackermann 1.96 43 Retired
Anton Bresler 1.98 25 Sharks
Edwin Hewitt 1.96 25 Sharks
Peet Marais 1.98 22 Sharks
Pieter-Steph du Toit 2 20 Sharks
Gideon Koegelenberg 1.99 19 Sharks u19
Dave Fisher 1.96 20 Sharks u21
Stephan Lewies 2.02 21 Sharks u21
Wiehan Hay 1.98 21 Sharks u21
Alistair Hargreaves 2 27 UK
Mike Williams 1.96 21 UK
Johan Snyman 2 27 Wales
Mike Rhodes 1.96 25 WP
Myles Tucker 2.06 20 WP



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