The Sharks’ coaching staff showed they are going to be anything but conservative in the Currie Cup this season when they yesterday unveiled a team to play the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday night that will see youngster Fred Zeilinga starting at flyhalf and Jacques Botes continuing as captain, despite the return of Keegan Daniel.
Zeilinga will make his run-on debut for the Sharks in replacing veteran Butch James, who reverts to the bench, while Botes has been rewarded both for his fine form at No8 and strong leadership by retaining the captaincy. Daniel, who captained the side in the Super Rugby campaign, missed the first two games because of injury and now slots in on the flank for the injured Brynard Stander.
In other changes, SP Marais moves from wing to fullback for injured Odwa Ndungane and Marais’ place on the wing is reclaimed by Sizo Maseko, who missed the Lions game last week because of a hamstring injury after having made his debut the week before against Griquas.
The perennially injured Tim Whitehead was not considered for selection at centre and that means promising youngster Heimar Williams has another opportunity to prove himself at inside centre.
Experienced forwards in Jean Deysel and Marco Wentzel have recovered from an assortment of knocks to take their places in the team.
Backs coach Sean Everitt said the retention of Botes as captain was about continuity: “It’s a new group of players with a new coaching staff. I think the more continuity we have the better and Jacques led well in the first two games.”
The richly experienced Botes has certainly done himself proud considering that he was initially not in the match 22 for the opener against Griquas but was rushed into the side as No 8 and captain when Daniel failed a late fitness test. The 32-year-old has been in great form in both of the Sharks’ games.
“With Brynard’s injury, it just made sense to slot Keegan straight in at 6 (rather than at No8),” Everitt said. “We had spoken to Keegan before about playing at 6, and he was quite happy. From a transition point of view, it is easier to continue with Jacques as captain and at No8, where he has been going very well. As a unit we just want to keep our growth going.”
Everitt said the selection of the 20-year-old Zeilinga ahead of James was as much about rotation as it was about giving the former Glenwood High flyhalf a chance to start.
“Fred played off the bench in the first two games and did really well. He’s relieved a lot of pressure with his long kicking game, so he deserves a start, but at the same time it is rotational as well. Within our squad we are going to rotate players at times, so it’s Fred’s turn to show what he can do from the outset.
“Starting with Fred ahead of Butch is not a risk as far as we are concerned,” Everitt said. “I don’t think it matters whether you are 33 or 20, it’s just that Fred has gone very well and he’s confident. He had a good Vodacom Cup and we feel it’s time to unleash him into the big league. He has a very good kicking game, as we’ve seen in the Vodacom Cup, and last Friday against the Lions he showed no nerves when he came on.” - The Star