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Silver linings to Sharks injury cloud

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 14 Apr 2014 at 12:15
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , , ,

While many teams would be floored by a serious injury to their second-choice flyhalf just weeks after their first-choice had been ruled out for the year, for the Sharks, Saturday’s unfortunate injury to Fred Zeilinga open up a number of options for the coaching staff, most of which are rather enticing indeed.

Before we get too excited about what might eventuate, though, let’s take a minute or two to wish Fred well; we’re hoping that his hamstring injury isn’t serious enough to cause him to miss out on a tour spot, even if it does look set to sideline him for at least the two home games to come. Fred is a wonderfully composed and talented young man who has stepped admirably into the breach caused by Pat Lambie’s bicep tear and the former has only enhanced his standing over the last two weeks.

Injuries happen, though and the team needs to adapt and move on.

Now, perhaps the most obvious solution – and the one which most won’t look beyond – is simply to ask Fran Steyn to wear the ten jersey until Zeilinga recovers (or perhaps longer if he makes a decent go of it). We’ve seen enough of Steyn at flyhalf this season (for one reason or another) to be pretty confident that he’ll do a far better job in that position now than was the case earlier in his career. His big boot alone, whether out of hand or off the tee, has proved crucial for the Sharks already this season and as a key “go-to man” in the backline, it would be a safe option indeed to let him settle at pivot.

Adding further to the attractiveness of this option is the superb depth at inside centre. Heimar Williams continues to grow in stature as a more than capable option at this level, while Jake White has also hinted at asking Paul Jordaan to reprise a role in the number 12 jersey that he played with aplomb as a younger man. The precocious talents of Andre Esterhuizen remain untapped as well and you really feel that whichever choice the Sharks make here will be the right one.

That said, the significantly bigger opportunity, to my mind, lies in not asking Steyn to do a holding job at all. Frans Steyn is a fine inside centre – perhaps the best we have in the country at present – with his array of skills making him stand out in that position. The fact that Steyn can play flyhalf makes him a better centre, to my mind, rather than implying that he should necessarily play flyhalf.

Just as the injury to Lambie offered Zeilinga the chance to step up (and a brave move that was, given that Steyn could so easily have been shifted to ten weeks ago), I feel that Zeilinga’s injury could now open the door for Tim Swiel to do the same. I was a little critical of Swiel’s game at flyhalf when the Sharks lost to the Bulls last month, perhaps not giving enough importance to impossibility of the job he was asked to do on the day. He’s now benefited from a few great Vodacom Cup outings and is in superb form. He’s an out-and-out flyhalf, he’s a reliable place-kicker, he’s a game breaker and he’s a hugely important player for the Sharks moving forward.

Just as the presence of Charl McLeod on one side and Steyn on the other did wonders to ease Fred Zeilinga into Super Rugby, those same players, if left alone, could ease Swiel’s passage into the big leagues. If in the process we end up further increasing competition in the squad – and the pressure on both Lambie and Zeilinga to be on top of their own games at all times – so much the better for the Sharks as a whole.

My feeling is that if the Sharks want to play it safe, they will go with Steyn and Williams. I don’t feel, though, that we need to play it safe against the Cheetahs this weekend. Apart from the win – which must count as a given – I would imagine a four-try bonus point must be very high on the list of objectives for the Sharks for Saturday. My feeling is that Tim Swiel at flyhalf probably makes that result slightly more likely than Frans Steyn does.

Once again, though, for the coaches, it comes down to making a gut feel choice between two incredibly good options. What a great time to be a Shark!


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