New Sharks Currie Cup captain, Tera Mtembu, and his freshly appointed coach, Brad Macleod-Henderson, face challenging times indeed in the first domestic showpiece when no Springbok players contracted to the South African Rugby Union will be allowed to play any role whatsoever in this year’s competition, and that includes the business end when the Boks traditionally return to enliven the knock-out rounds of the Currie Cup.
Many have argued that in the past the returning Boks have impeded momentum because their hearts have not been in stepping back down into domestic rugby after the highs of playing the All Blacks and Wallabies, and there has been an argument that the players that get the team to the semi-finals, deserve to see the job through.
This will happen in 2014, and for the Sharks the enforced policy of “new blood” is further ensured because a number of seasoned veterans (that will not be part of the Bok squad ) are leaving for overseas pastures new, veterans such as Keegan Daniel, Charl McLeod and Jean Deysel.
When you remove those players, plus Springboks such as Bismarck and Jannie du plessis, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Tendai Mtawarira, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Ryan Kankowski, Patrick Lambie, Frans Steyn and Lwazi Mvovo, it leaves the Sharks with a brand new squad to face Griquas in the opening Currie Cup match next Saturday.
And they could not have asked for a much tougher game than against a Griquas side that has been playing together as a unit for the last six weeks in the qualifying rounds for the Currie Cup.
They have a settled side, while Macleod-Henderson and Mtembu must start from scratch and hope to fashion a winning side within a fortnight before that match in Kimberley.
The Sharks will remember full well that they lost at home to Griquas in the first round of last year’s Currie Cup before recovering to win the title at Newlands.
Of this year’s greater Super Rugby squad, the coach will have seasoned front rankers to call upon such as Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse (the former Griquas tighthead) as well as the highly exciting youngster Thomas Du Toit, who is just 19 and has made a big impact since replacing the injured Beast in the last rounds of Super Rugby.
In the second row, they have brilliant youngster Etienne Oosthuizen and are likely to have the equally gifted Stephan Lewies, although, the latter could at some stage be called up to Springbok service if there are injuries to the likes of Victor Matfield.
At scrumhalf, Cobus Reinach is tentatively with the Sharks but could well be one of the new call-ups to the Boks, but Conrad Hoffman is back from a stint with the Brumbies and will compete with SA Under-20 scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer, who has been on the bench in a few of the Super Rugby games, plus age group player Cameron Wright.
At flyhalf there is Fred Zeilinga and Tim Swiel, and another fringe Brumbies player in the much travelled Lionel Cronjé (Bulls, Lions, Western Province). In the midfield there are good players coming through in Heimar Williams, Andre Esterhuizen, S’buru Sithole and Paul Jordaan.
Veteran Odwa Ndungane will head the back three along with SP Marais and occasional Super Rugby player Jaco van Tonder.
Sharks CEO John Smit confirmed that director of rugby Jake White will be very much in the background for the second half of the 2014 season, and will be working mostly with the age group teams and Academy players, looking to identify and bring through new talent.
That means Macleod-Henderson will be very much the hands-on coach of the team and will be supported by assistants Sean Everett and Paul Antony.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that stalwart Sharks and Springbok prop Mtawarira will be looking to further his career overseas after next year’s Super Rugby campaign and Rugby World Cup in England. The Beast says he is looking to play in France after the World Cup.