At first glance it appears to be a bold move, but upon consideration few will quibble with Sharks coach John Plumtree’s enterprising decision to retain Frederic Michalak at flyhalf for Saturday’s Super Rugby match against the Stormers, while bringing Patrick Lambie back into the team at fullback.
Lambie was picked at 10 last week for the Cheetahs game but withdrew at the last minute because of flu and the Frenchman stepped in and played a blinder in Bloemfontein, scoring 19 of the Sharks’ 34 points.
And for this week’s almighty clash with the tournament leaders, Plumtree has found a way to keep both stars in the starting line-up.
The multi-talented Lambie is equally at home at 10, 12 and 15, and with many tipping him to be picked at fullback for the Springboks against England next month, the Sharks (and Lambie) have much to gain from playing him in that position while keeping the mercurial French international on song at flyhalf. The Sharks can get the best of both worlds, so to speak.
In addition, the Sharks have not had a great deal going on at fullback this season. Riaan Viljoen started promisingly but his form has dipped and, while Louis Ludik is solid, Lambie offers much more.
Ludik has recovered from the arm injury that kept him out of the Cheetahs match and is on the bench this week, along with just one other backline player, Odwa Ndungane, an indication of the forward battle the Sharks are gearing themselves up for against a Cape side that in previous seasons has been seen as relatively soft in the forwards but now has a monster pack that has not been bettered in the competition.
The Stormers are playing a robust lock in Rynhardt Elstadt on the flank, with a formidable combination of Andries Bekker and Eben Etzebeth in the second row.
Plumtree has reacted by recalling big Willem Alberts to the starting line-up at the expense of Jacques Botes in a horses-for-courses selection. Botes has been playing well but the Sharks need to counter the bulk of the visitors, and Alberts had a good game when he played off the bench last week.
The other change to the starting line-up is at inside centre where Tim Whitehead is rested because of ongoing groin problems and is replaced by Meyer Bosman. While Whitehead has been playing extremely well, Bosman has made an impressive impact with every opportunity he has been given off the bench this season, so the Sharks won’t lose a significant amount in this forced change.
Incidentally, Whitehead also missed the Sharks’ second-round match against the Stormers in Cape Town, and started 10 consecutive games before once again missing out against his former team. He had made his debut for the Sharks in the opening-round match against the Bulls, in Pretoria, having earned 10 caps for the Stormers before his move to Durban.
The 23-year-old Whitehead has been a revelation this season and Plumtree is excited about the potential of his partnership with Paul Jordaan, who will again start at 13 with JP Pietersen remaining on the wing.
Speaking of Baby Boks, Plumtree has recalled young lock Pieter-Steph du Toit to the bench, with Jean Deysel dropping out of the 22. Du Toit will play for the SA Under-20 team next month in the IRB competition being held in South Africa. 8P26