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Can you ever have too many loose forwards?

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 9 Jun 2015 at 12:27
Tagged with : , , , , , , ,

In the light of recent news regarding the signing of Philip van der Walt, the old question of acquisition versus youth development has again raised its head. Having just (somewhat) put the debate to bed after the Jacques Potgieter signing, it didn’t take long for the topic to flare up once more.

The backdrop to this tale sees a Sharks squad that has had to bid farewell to a number of experienced loose forward options over the last two seasons; Willem Alberts’ departure has been confirmed today and he joins the likes of Jacques Botes and Keegan Daniel in moving away from roles that they’ve held at the Sharks for some time. In an ideal world, we would have a complete list of who’s staying, who’s going and who is coming in all revealed at once, so we’d be able to discern the plan in its entirety. Reality dictates that we are instead forced to piece together the big picture bit by bit.

The point, though, is that it’s quite possible that Alberts isn’t the only loose forward whose departure will be confirmed once the 2015 Super Rugby season has run its course. Even if the likes of Marcell Coetzee and Ryan Kankowski do stick around (which we hope they will) we only need look at this season to remind ourselves just how attrition can affect a team, with the back row an area particularly hard hit. Remember the Kyle Cooper as flank debacle that played out on tour? That came about as the result of having Alberts, Renaldo Bothma, Tera Mtembu and Kankowski all injured at the same time, while Jean Deysel was suspended. While losing five top loose forwards all at once seems a nightmare situation, it is one that can all too easily happen and faced with a situation like that, I’m sure we can all agree that more depth is a good thing.

Of course, the inevitable discussion (made by those who enjoy taking pot shots) centres around the contracting of players like Bothma, Potgieter and van der Walt when the Sharks have a pair of bright young things in Jean-Luc du Preez and brother Daniel waiting to take the step up. I’m very much in two minds about the situation this causes, since I would hate for the development of these stars to be stifled in any way due to the decision to contract experienced players on a short term basis.

Potgieter, in this context, appears a stopgap, but one brought in to fill a very real need given Alberts’ departure. While he will obviously play a vital role when a player of his ilk is required at blindside flank, one must not forget that it’s his ability to cover 4-lock (like Alberts) that makes Potgieter such a valuable signing. His age counts against him, but in van der Walt and Bothma (who can hopefully be convinced to stay on post 2016) the Sharks have a pair of loose forwards in the right sort of age range who can add much needed depth and “ballast” to the squad. While we certainly don’t want to hold the twins back, neither do we want to create a situation where all of our hopes rest squarely on those young shoulders; after all, experience has shown that putting too heavy a workload on too young a body seldom delivers good long-term rewards.

I’m pretty confident that, during the upcoming Currie Cup season, the Sharks will be able to find enough opportunities to blood Daniel du Preez and his brother, while still getting good use out of Philip van der Walt. The loss of Tera Mtembu to yet another knee injury makes it all the more likely that all three players will need to play at some stage. Let’s let the twins get a good Currie Cup campaign under their belt before we start touting them as immediate must-picks at Super Rugby level.

Hell, if they’re as good as we think they are (and I genuinely believe they are) then there will be very little doubt about which players will get game time during next year’s Super Rugby season. Cream tends to rise to the top, after all, but young players also need to accept that there will always be competition for places and the best way to get picked is to prove yourself better than your opponents on the training field.


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