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Saluting some bold selections


Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Original Content, Sharks on 6 Aug 2015 at 10:58
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , ,

I think I speak for just about everyone here when I say that the Sharks team selected for tomorrow night’s Currie Cup opener certainly has raised the excitement levels. With a decent mix of expected selections and a few genuine surprises, there’s a definite sense that we could see something rather special from the Sharks this campaign.

Starting up front, the tight five is pretty much as we’d expect it to be, with the experienced Dale Chadwick (earning his 43rd Currie Cup cap) and Lourens Adriaanse the right men to secure the scrum platform. Monde Hadebe gets a chance to start for only the fifth time, with injuries to Kyle Cooper and Franco Marais opening the door for him. He’s an exciting ball player with a quick brain, but on a cold night in Nelspruit, it will be his basics that come under scrutiny. If ever there was an opportunity for a player to grasp an opportunity with both hands, this is that opportunity for Monde.

I cannot over-emphasis just what a good call it is to stick with Marco Wentzel as captain. As the elder statesman in the side (and a few years older than even some of the refs in this competition), Wentzel brings a level of calm and gravitas to proceedings and adds brilliant referee and game management to his plethora of lineout skills. With his position at 5 lock unlikely to come under threat in the squad, Gary Gold will be looking to Wentzel as a mainstay in this team and could do worse than to use his captain’s lineout prowess as a key component of the attacking game this campaign.

It’s the selection of Etienne Oosthuizen at 4, though, that really ticks a big box for me. It’s been a tricky year for the big man, played more often in the back row than at lock and I genuinely feel we’ve not done his development all that much good in the process. Kudos to Gold for being prepared to back the youngsters he has at loose forward and letting Ettas play in the position that fits him best. Oosthuizen has the skills and attitude to become a Bok in a position where, outside Eben Etzebeth, there is little depth in South African rugby. I’m looking forward to a massive Currie Cup from him.

The loose trio is pretty much a complete unknown – and this is definitely uncharted territory for the Sharks, who have come to depend on a number of stalwarts in the back row over the years and are now without nearly all of them for this campaign. Khaya Majola – a player who did some good things in Super Rugby – earns just his second start (and sixth cap overall at this level) – while Jean-Luc du Preez and Philip van der Walt are both making their Sharks debuts. Van der Walt, at least, has 26 caps for the Cheetahs (as well as a decent amount of Super Rugby experience) and will need to provide leadership to the other two – all eyes, one feels, will be on du Preez though as he looks to prove that age-group pedigree does indeed translate to effectiveness on the senior stage. Brother Daniel will enjoy a similar opportunity in the second half.

The halfback selection, again, is bold and exciting. It would have been very easy to back the experienced pair of Michael Claassens and Joe Pietersen, but you feel that a job was started with Stefan Ungerer and Lionel Cronje in Super Rugby and that Gold wants to see that work through. Pairing Cronje with the equally enterprising Heimar Williams is just gravy and raises the very real possibility that we could see creative play from the Sharks’ backs, rather than simply the sort of physical dominance one would get if Andre Esterhuizen had been picked at 12. I’m glad, though, that Esterhuizen is there too, albeit in an unexpected position. That said, he did spend a few games at wing in Super Rugby after coming on as early injury replacement for Odwa Ndungane and certainly presents a formidable strike running option for Ungerer or Cronje to invoke, down the blind side or on the cutback. Esterhuizen’s major strength is defensive dominance, of course, so I would expect he’d be asked to assist Williams in this role depending on the game situation.

Pietersen is the “safe pair of hands” in an otherwise very young outside back division, where much is expected of the combination of Wandi Mjekevu and S’bura Sithole. Mjekevu is also making his Currie Cup debut and having been somewhat surprisingly picked ahead of Paul Jordaan, will also have a great opportunity to cement his place. Sithole, one of the form players in Super Rugby, will look to just keep doing what was doing, in the process adding significantly to his career try tally of 8 in 30 Currie Cup games.

It’s easy, of course, to get excited about a team on paper and we’ve seen before how our pre-match expectations often fail to materialise on grass – particularly the cold, rock-hard grass of a foreign stadium on a winter’s evening, with a hostile crowd baying for “big union blood”. I’m fully expecting the Sharks to win this game, but even if they don’t, we owe it to them to continue to back the decision to back exciting young talent for this Currie cup campaign. Even if we don’t get the short-term results we’re looking for, the long-term gains will be worth it.



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