The wear and tear is taking its toll on the Sharks, but there was some good news when it emerged that Patrick Lambie is not entirely lost to their Super Rugby cause and will make a comeback before the play-off stages in July.
It was initially feared that the flyhalf would play no part in the competition after tearing a bicep muscle in the away loss to the Bulls in Pretoria, but coach Jake White has happily revealed that Lambie is on course to play in the penultimate game of the league stage, the away game to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. The Sharks finish with a trip to Cape Town to play the Stormers and then the play-offs take place.
“We could have four or five games with Patrick back (depending on how the Sharks fare in the play-offs), so that is good news indeed,” White said yesterday. “It was a massive loss when he got injured so early in the season because so much of our game plan was invested in him making the calls, and that was going to be a big help with there being a new captain (in Bismarck du Plessis).”
To White’s credit, he did not make a fuss in public when Lambie was injured and he has backed the next man in line.
And this Friday, against the Highlanders at Kings Park, it will be 20-year-old Tim Swiel once more in the No10 jersey. White said the team would not overly change as he asks his weary men for one more big effort before they go on tour (they leave for Melbourne on Saturday).
But the Highlanders game looks like it is coming around too soon for a host of hamstrung backs including wing JP Pietersen, wing Tonderai Chav- hanga, flyhalf Fred Zeilinga and centre Paul Jordaan. On a positive note, veteran wing Odwa Ndungane (shoulder) has a reasonably good chance of playing, White said.
The coach confirmed that there is nothing wrong with Frans Steyn, who appeared to grimace when he kicked against the Cheetahs.
“He will grimace every week! He is fine,” White smiled. “He needs a break but he will be fine for this week, especially when we have a lot of guys that are 50-50. Frans understands that he has to bide his time until we get guys back. Frans is very important to the team, especially with a new 10 (in Swiel). He knows that.”
White described the injury to the unfortunate Chavhanga as “terrible”. The 30-year-old former Bok was making his debut for the Sharks in a fairytale return from the wilderness.
“Luckily he came off immediately he felt it and did not make it worse,” White said. “Hopefully it will be only two to three weeks (hamstring injuries can be double that).”
White admitted that the flyhalf problem has not been an easy one to resolve since the injuries to Lambie and then Zeilinga. Some critics reckon White should move Steyn to 10, where he has played with mixed results this season when moved there in a crisis, but it has long been a policy of White as coach to back the next in line in a position.
“It has been a difficult one,” White said. “Tim has done alright for a 20-year-old coming in and having to take a step up. Do you change it again? We brought Tim here (from Western Province Under-21s) and we must back him. We have invested almost two games in him now (if you include the 70 minutes he played against the Bulls). He is getting the feeling of what it is like to play Super Rugby. He has got something… he is not your average player.”
White can see that his players are feeling the strain of the competition but he will resist rotation this week because of the importance of winning on the eve of their tour departure.
“It feels like it is a good time to give guys a breather but I am not sure it is the right time,” he said. “We have a short week, a five-day turnaround from the Cheetahs match, so to make five or six changes because the players need it physically could be the wrong thing because it will disrupt our rhythm.
“It is a home game, and a game against a team fresh after their bye. It is so important to get on the plane on a winning note. So I am not sure it is the right time to rest,” White said. - The Star