DURBAN – Despite the travails besetting the Sharks on and off the field, I believe they will beat the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.
If this comes to pass, it will hardly solve deep-rooted problems at the Shark Tank, but it would provide welcome relief for the embattled players and coaching staff, and most importantly, the supporters.
All involved with the Sharks need a shot in the arm, and I reckon the team selected for this tour opener can do just that.
The six changes to the side that lost to the Reds are positive ones, and the result is a stronger pack, with some serious ammo on the bench, and a refreshed halfback combination that can ignite a potent backline.
Let’s talk about the new halfbacks first. The No 9-10 combination has been under the spotlight for some time, with many feeling that Louis Schreuder has not been as sharp as he can be, notably with his clearing of the ball.
His two-or-three second dithering while he considers his options doesn’t help his backline, and certainly assists the opposition defence.
It could well be that the captain is simply jaded from being overplayed.
That is certainly the case with Robert du Preez, who at last makes way for Curwin Bosch.
We all know that Du Preez has been out of sorts, but who wouldn’t be, if you consider the amount of rugby he has played?
The 25-year-old started every game last year in Super Rugby and in the Currie Cup bar one.
Then after the Currie Cup, he went to Sale Sharks on a three-month contract, returning to Durban for Super Rugby, where he has started every game until this one.
The coaching staff have certainly done Du Preez (and the team) no favours by playing him into the ground.
So in comes Bosch, the breath of fresh air the Sharks need in that crucial position, and he is partnered by Cameron Wright, who is a more dynamic option than Schreuder currently is.
The prickly Wright certainly asks more questions of the defence, and in tandem with Bosch, we should see a lot of running from an electric backline that has Lukhanyo Am back at No 13, and the electrifying Aphelele Fassi at fullback (for Bosch).
And the backs should getter ball from a beefed up pack. I like Thomas du Toit coming in for Coenie Oosthuizen, who has been benched.
He is not the formidable ball-carrier like he used to be, and I wonder if he is in peak condition. Du Toit will bring greater energy.
The @CellC Sharks spent a day at the movies with little @CHOC Children's Foundation heroes. They got to see first hand how their contributions to #TacklingCancer are helping children who battle cancer every day.— The Sharks (@TheSharksZA) April 26, 2019
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The loose trio is the strongest the Sharks have fielded this year. Jean-Luc du Preez’s comeback from injury is now complete with him starting his first match of the year.
He played well when he came on against the Reds and his brother, Dan, has at No 8 been arguably the best Sharks forward this year.
Philip van der Walt is another who was injured at the start of Super Rugby, and he is only now showing signs of getting back to his best. Expect a big game from him tomorrow.
Akker van der Merwe is back from suspension, but has not displaced Kerron van Vuuren at hooker, and this is probably a good thing.
Tomorrow #OurSharks kick off the first game of their international tour. The Bankwest Stadium is a new venue and hopefully a return to success for the @CellC Sharks. 🏉#WARvSHA #OurSharksForever pic.twitter.com/40KU4hYFSO— The Sharks (@TheSharksZA) April 26, 2019
Van Vuuren has been putting in serious effort and his basics are very solid, while Akker often plays his best rugby off the bench.
And the bench could well be where the Sharks win this game.
Alongside Akker is Ruan Botha, the Sharks’ most physical lock (back from injury), Oosthuizen, the exciting young talent that is former SA Under-20 prop Mzamo Majola, and 110-percenter flank Jacques Vermeulen.
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (captain).
Bench: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Marius Louw.@MikeGreenaway67