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Sharks Super Rugby 2014: The midfield

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 22 Jan 2014 at 12:04
Tagged with : , , , , , , , ,

Few areas have been as problematic for the Sharks in recent years as the midfield. Let’s have a look at the options new coach Jake White is likely to turn to for Super Rugby 2014.

After what seemed like years of plodding along with the same dull, unimaginative centre play under John Plumtree and Grant Bashford, the Sharks finally seemed to turn a corner during last year’s Currie Cup. A few hitherto-untried options from the junior ranks were brought through, while veterans, including an out-of-position Louis Ludik, also came to the party. Brendan Venter’s rotation policy saw a huge variety of different combinations used, which worked well enough in Currie Cup, but for Jake White, the challenge now is to forge a new first-choice partnership, while also ensuring sufficient depth.

The big shock so far has been the axing of Tim Whitehead – a fan favourite since his arrival from the Cape two seasons ago – from the Super Rugby squad. Along with promising youngster Gareth Meikle (who will play a big role for UKZN in the Varsity Shield), Whitehead was released from White’s provisional squad at the start of the year and is, we believe, currently training with the Vodacom Cup team. For a guy who has had a horrible run with injury, but has impressed for the most part when picked, it’s a bitter blow for sure. New coaches come with new ideas, though and until we’ve seen White’s gameplan unfold between the four lines, it’s unfair to say too much about whether he’s made the right call here.

Bok Francois Steyn is the man to whom White will turn as primary option in the number 12 jersey. White has identified synergies between Steyn and first-choice pivot Pat Lambie and wants to see that partnership blossom, in the process assisting both men in their quest to capture those respective jerseys at Test level. Heimar Williams, as the man to make the best fist of his Currie Cup opportunity last year, looks set to play a role here too, perhaps as understudy to Steyn at inside centre.

Paul Jordaan, now over his horrific knee injury, looks set to reclaim the troublesome number 13 shirt. In a position where the Sharks have battled for years, White looks set to persevere with the lightning-fast Freestater, but as always, backup in this position remains a question mark. The possibility that a wing – JP Pietersen, S’bura Sithole or even Odwa Ndungane – could be used here cannot be discounted.

Also in the picture are last year’s under-21 pair, Tyler Fisher and Andre Esterhuizen. Both just 20 years old (and in their second year out of school), they are clearly highly rated by White and have been included in the tour squad to play Saracens. Esterhuizen is perhaps not quite quick enough for a role at outside centre, but will offer White another, very similar option to Steyn at 12, whereas Fisher – who has played all his junior rugby in the 13 shirt – ironically looks set for a trial run at fullback, rather than in the midfield.

Without knowing too much about what’s in store, I certainly wouldn’t bet against all five of these men enjoying a good run at some stage during the upcoming competition.


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