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Sharks changes – all good

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 26 Feb 2015 at 10:58
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , , , ,

There’s not too much to talk about from a team selection point of view this week, with Sharks Director of Rugby Gary Gold making just two rotational changes to his starting team for Saturday’s big clash against the Bulls at Loftus.

Rotation of players is going to be a key theme in this year’s competition and not just because it’s a World Cup year, with SARU insisting on better management of Bok players. We all saw how Jake White’s insistence on continuity last year resulted in a team full of burned out players come finals time and with the Sharks having the luxury of depth, to me it’s a no-brainer that they should rotate regularly throughout the season. Brendan Venter’s long held mantra is that while a strong team wins you matches, a strong squad wins you trophies and Gold appears to be of one mind with the enigmatic Doctor when it comes to this philosophy.

I think we’ve got to very quickly move away from the somewhat negative language of players being “dropped” in this model – both Tera Mtembu and Heimar Williams, who move out of the squad this week, will know that their exclusion is part of a pre-planned strategy and not due to anything lacking in their performance to date.

Horses for courses is another important factor here and with the game shaping up as a rather physical affair, the presence of a burly guy like Andre Esterhuizen in mid field makes a lot of sense. With the Sharks expected to dominate up front, having a strong gain-line crosser in Esterhuizen should keep momentum going and provide a good target for the pack. Esterhuizen makes his first start in Super Rugby after a single appearance off the bench last year and we perhaps shouldn’t underestimate quite how big a challenge lies ahead for the young man, with two Bok midfielders expected to line up in opposition.

Ryan Kankowski, who isn’t quite the free-running “almost back” of his youth these days, brings some intriguing things to the contest, not least of which is his ability to organise the line-out. Working in tandem with Pieter-Steph du Toit (and of course the legend Marco Wentzel later on), Kanko offers the Sharks more than enough fire power to counter Victor Matfield and crew at this key phase and turn the line-out – once the Bulls’ most potent weapon – into an area of advantage for themselves. Kankowski will also want to show his improved ability to mix it up physically, but with Marcell Coetzee and Renaldo Bothma already doing such a fine job in this area, perhaps the big number 8 will be able to play a freer role as he used to with devastating impact some years ago.

On the bench, it’s good to see Lourens Adriaanse come in. He and Matt Stevens, between them, are going to have to hold up the tighthead side in a few weeks’ time, with Jannie du Plessis due to be rotated out in line with the SARU player management agreement. Stevens has had the opportunity to pick up some match fitness during the first two weeks and Adriaanse must now do the same over the coming fortnight, before one of them is chosen to start in du Plessis’ place, possibly against the Cheetahs in round 5.

Jack Wilson is an unknown to virtually everybody at this stage and will hope to come off the bench to make his Super Rugby debut; I’m certainly very keen to get a closer look at this player, whom I will claim as an “extended family member” since he roomed with my wife’s cousin at university in New Zealand. Tenuous I know, but we do what we must!


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