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Where are all the locks?

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Original Content, Sharks on 6 Jul 2015 at 10:16
Tagged with : , , , , , ,

It’s probably safe to say that the Sharks’ decision to sign Reds lock Dave McDuling for the upcoming Currie Cup and Super Rugby seasons did not exactly meet with universal approval. In fact, a quick scan of my Twitter timeline revealed something approaching howls of derision from many quarters. “Why do the Sharks always sign foreign players instead of local ones?” seemed to be the main point of contention.

This kind of thing typically gets my back up very quickly for a whole bunch of reasons that I’m not going to go into here. Let it suffice to say that I do not really care too much about where a player comes from, so long as he’s prepared to bleed for the black and white; I do feel, though, that a genuine dearth of available second row talent on the local scene has forced the Sharks’ hands to an extent.

Looking at the wider context here; Stephan Lewies and Pieter-Steph du Toit are both out of the picture for the time being due to injury and Bok commitments. Giant Mtayanda has returned to the Pumas and Mourtiz Botha has perhaps not quite lived up to his pre-season billing. With Marco Wentzel having also carried a far greater workload in Super Rugby than was anticipated, there is very little doubt that the Sharks need to bolster their second-row stocks – and do so quickly. The situation, of course, is largely one of their own making. We won’t go into all the reasons that various young locks have left the province, but it’s probably fair to say that the high turnover in coaches over the last few years (and ensuing uncertainty) must be a big factor in all of Anton Bresler, Jandre Marais and Peet Marais opting to depart for European clubs. There have been other young locks to leave (plenty of them, in fact) but I believe those three are the ones we’ll regret losing the most.

There are those, of course, who will ask why the Sharks do not “back their own systems” and the point is valid, to an extent. One would think that, in well-functioning setup, the obvious thing to do would be to call up the current under-21 locks to the senior squad and just carry on. Again, I won’t go into exhaustive reasoning, but the feeling in Durban seems to be that those very players – currently Hyron Andrews and Johan du Toit – are perhaps still a year away from being physically ready for senior rugby. We all know how much damage can be done to a young body if thrown into the big leagues too soon and in this case, I will back the coaches’ assessment. The players are rated, but the feeling is they should be playing under 21 rugby this season, in their own best interests.

Digging a little deeper, it doesn’t require much of a leap to work out why the Sharks are struggling for quality in the second row, even at junior level. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to trawl back through the archives and count just how many of the last few years’ Junior Springbok and SA Schools lock forwards are contracted to the Bulls.
You’ll probably find that a number of them – frustrated by a lack of senior opportunities, or due to being forced onto the flank since you can only play two locks at a time, despite contracting four – have already left to play in France. There are swathes more, though, just biding their time at Loftus and hoping that the selection lottery will work in their favour before too much longer.

Turning back to McDuling, though, it turns out he’s perhaps not quite as foreign as his detractors would like him to be. The lad’s father is Durban born and young Dave admits to supporting the Sharks as a child, tweeting on Friday that “when I was a kid, my dad bought me a Natal jersey. Soon I will have the opportunity to earn one.” We’ve seen a fair few South African-born players go all the way in Australian rugby in years gone by. Wouldn’t it be a great if maybe, just maybe, it worked the other way for a change?


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