The formidable presence of centre Francois Steyn will boost the Sharks for their must-win Super Rugby match against the Bulls at Kings Park on Friday night, but the Sharks are still waiting on blockbusting Springbok loosie Willem Alberts.
Steyn signed for the Sharks three weeks ago only to see immediate action for the Springboks in the first two Tests of the series against England before going absent with leave for the third Test, which happened to coincide with his long-planned wedding day.
But Steyn is back from honeymoon and ready to make a comeback in the Sharks jersey after departing for Racing Metro in Paris in 2009 following a fall-out with the then Springbok coach Peter de Villiers.
Alberts sprained his knee in scoring a try in that second Test and also missed the third, and is touch-and-go for Friday night.
Patrick Lambie (ankle), another Sharks Springbok injured at Ellis Park against England, will be good to go against the Bulls.
After the Sharks’ lengthy break since losing to the Lions more than a month ago, the only players certain to miss this week’s game are lock Steven Sykes (knee) and flank Jacques Botes (shoulder), while the hamstring injury that caused SA Under-20 wing/centre Paul Jordaan to miss the business end of the recently ended IRB Championship might still preclude him from the Sharks’ mix this week, thus making it easier for coach John Plumtree to slot Steyn back in at 12 and move Tim Whitehead from that position to 13, where Jordaan had been playing.
Whitehead has proved he is over a groin injury by making a strong comeback against John Smit’s “Barney Army”.
With Sykes likely to be out, Plumtree has an interesting choice between emerging youngsters.
Anton Bresler is likely to get one of the spots and then there is the claim of Pieter-Steph du Toit, who had an exceptional campaign in the Under-20 championship, even if some of it was at No7 flank, and the emerging Jandré Marais.
Yesterday, Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford said that whatever the Sharks’ starting line-up, it would have to have the right mindset to take on the combative Bulls.
“It’s all about physicality and attitude when you play the Bulls,” he said. “When you face the Bulls you know what’s coming, but the challenge is to stop it. If you don’t deny them momentum and prevent them from getting on the front foot, then it becomes a long day.
“The set-pieces, driving line-out and contestable kicking are the things that the Bulls do really well and you have to be switched on to stop them.”
Bashford said the Sharks had been impressed with how the Bulls had demolished the Cheetahs in the first half of their match at the weekend to rattle up a 40-0 lead.
“There’s no two ways about it, in the two games they’ve played against the Cheetahs this Super Rugby campaign they’ve blown them away,” Bashford said. “Maybe this time it had something to do with the Cheetahs being out of the competition and simply wanting to have a go from everywhere, and perhaps they tried to hit sixes from ball one, which played into the Bulls’ hands. Possibly the Cheetahs were also a little rusty after the break because they didn’t have many guys with the Springboks, whereas the Bulls had a lot.”
Bashford said the Sharks had taken into account lessons learned at Loftus in the first round, when they lost 13-18.
“In that match we weren’t good enough under the high ball and gave away a lot of penalties in the wrong areas of the field and Morné Steyn kicked the points. We can’t repeat that, our discipline has to be good and we can’t give Steyn opportunities to kick at posts, even if some of his goal-kicking form has been a bit up and down of late,” Bashford said.