DURBAN – As far as dress rehearsals for the Currie Cup semi-finals go, the Sharks mostly got their lines right in Kimberley on Saturday when they comfortably disposed of a combative Griquas team 41-11.
Coach Robert du Preez had made a host of experimental changes to his side in order to have his match-23 in the best possible shape for Saturday’s semi-final at Kings Park.
And to that end, it was pleasing to see a handful of Springboks enjoy their first meaningful game time since returning from injury.
Beefy Coenie Oosthuizen started his first game since his calamitous injury against Ireland last November and will be much the better for playing the full 80.
Of course, the Sharks have another Bok tighthead waiting in the wings in Thomas du Toit.
Sbu Nkosi, who had made such an impact on the right wing for the Boks in the June series against England, was back in action after his foot fracture and looked sharp as ever, and celebrated his comeback with a good try.
Another Shark who starred for the Boks against England, Jean-Luc du Preez, was back after two months of recovery from groin surgery, and he made his muscular presence felt when he came on in the second half.
The significant positional change was at flyhalf, where Curwin Bosch had a rare outing in the position, and after a rusty start, he showed some deft touches.
The man he displaced, Robert du Preez, was solid at inside centre, but it is certain that normal service will be resumed for the semi-final, with Du Preez back at 10 and Bosch once more at fullback.
On the subject of comebacks from injury, the player that stole the show was forgotten Sharks recruit Leolin Zas, the former Western Province and Stormers wing that joined the Sharks two years ago, only to be injured for most of that time.
He only made it on to the bench for this match because Kobus van Wyk pulled out with a hamstring injury, and Zas certainly made the most of his opportunity, scoring two sparkling tries.
There was also a brace for veteran Lwazi Mvovo, who showed no sign of declining pace at age 32.
A bonus point win for the @cellc Sharks is the end result in Kimberley against a willing Tafel Lager Griquas side who fought on until after the final whistle.
This assures us of a home semi-final!#GRIvSHA #OurSharksForever #WhereLegendsRise pic.twitter.com/rKLsDrDXlm
Akker van der Merwe started his first match of the Currie Cup after having had to settle for a place on the bench behind regular captain Chiliboy Ralepelle, and he had a typically storming game.
The Sharks’ depth certainly seems to be coming together nicely for the knockout stages of the competition, with coach Du Preez successfully blooding newcomers in livewire scrumhalf Grant Williams and man-mountain lock JJ van der Mescht, the 19-year-old who was at Glenwood High last year.
The Sharks started off the match in charitable mood, butchering three clear-cut try-scoring opportunities.
But once they showed patience with ball-in-hand, and with the forwards getting on top, the tries began to flow.
The plucky home side were saying farewell to their popular coach Peter Engeldow and were probably better than the score suggests, having had three tries disallowed.
Griquas 11 – Try: Kyle Steyn. Penalties: George Whitehead (2).
Sharks 41 – Tries: Jeremy Ward, Lwazi Mvovo (2), Akker van der Merwe, Leolin Zas (2). Conversions: Curwin Bosch (3).