There is a new coaching team headed by the likeable, home grown Sean Everitt (assisted by Nick Easter and David Williams) and a promising squad that is a blend of veterans from the recently ended Super Rugby campaign and blossoming youth from the Sharks’ age group teams, notably from the all-conquering under-19 side that provided 12 members of the SA Under-19 squad that has just returned from duty in Argentina.
In this World Cup year, the Currie Cup has been compressed into a one-round event, with the teams playing just six games over the next two months before the semi-finals on August 31 and the final a week later.
It will mean that the Sharks have to hit the ground running on Friday night against the SuperSport Challenge champions. There is no room for error or opportunity to evolve a game plan, but Everitt is confident that his team can play enterprising rugby while embracing the pressure to win every game.
“We believe we can do it with the quality we have in our squad, as long as we show growth from game to game,” he said. “We want to see the players expressing themselves as individuals on the field; we want to see energy, the guys working for each other. With that the results can take care of themselves.
“It is about the players believing in and trusting each other,” the coach continued. “When the group is really tight you can get through the pressure times you will get in games.”
Everitt is fortunate to have a decent core of tight forwards surviving from Super Rugby, despite call-ups to the Boks (Thomas du Toit and Tendai Mtawarira) and some departures for foreign shores (Coenie Oosthuizen, Akker van der Merwe and Ruan Botha).
The second row of Ruben van Heerden and Hyron Andrews was in very good form by the end of Super Rugby; hooker Kerron van Vuuren has proved himself after being thrown in the deep end and props Mzamo Majola, John-Hubert Meyer and Juan Schoeman are first rate. Veteran Craig Burden is also finally over his injury problems.
That group of tight forwards should give the Sharks a solid platform up front, and that would free up what is shaping up to be a young and quick loose trio.
Coming through to bolster the second row ranks from the Junior Springboks is the irrepressible JJ van der Mescht, who scored one of the tries of the tournament with a barnstorming 40m run against the All Blacks.
Van der Mescht debuted for the senior side in the Currie Cup last year and has also made his Super Rugby debut, and other Sharks Baby Boks that had cameos in Super Rugby this year are hooker Fez Mbatha, hooker/flank Dylan Richardson and flank Phepsi Buthelezi, who captained the Baby Boks to the bronze medal in Rosario.
Everitt will name his captain tomorrow and it’s likely Louis Schreuder will continue in the role from Super Rugby. The Sharks have scrum-half depth in Schreuder, Cameron Wright and the SA U-20 scrum-halves, Sanele Nohamba and Jaden Hendrikse.
The back division is looking strong despite the Springboks claiming Lukhanyo Am, André Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi and Sbu Nkosi, and Robert du Preez departing to the Sale Sharks.
Flyhalf Curwin Bosch heads a backline that can call on JP Pietersen (back from Toulon), Madosh Tambwe (signed from Lions), Jeremy Ward, Rhyno Smith, Kobus van Wyk, Aphelele Fassi, Marius Louw, Grant Williams, Leolin Zas and veteran Lwazi Mvovo.
“The Currie Cup remains extremely important for South African rugby,” Everitt underlined. “I know people view it as a watered down competition but if you look at what it meant to the Sharks last year when they won in Cape Town ... the traditions are still there.”@MikeGreenaway