DURBAN – Sharks captain Ruan Botha has signed a deal with Japanese club Kubota Spears, meaning the KZN team will have a new leader in the imminent Currie Cup.
Botha, one of the stand-out Sharks in the recently-ended Super Rugby competition, will be back in Durban for next year’s campaign but is lost for the domestic competition which begins for the Sharks with a home game against the Bulls on August 25.
Botha will be joining other experienced Sharks in the Land of the Rising Sun in Philip van der Walt (Canon Eagles) and Stephan Lewies (Kamaishi Seawaves).
Lewies, a one-cap Springbok, missed Super Rugby this season because of injury and while he and Van der Walt will also be back next year, the Sharks will be short of second-row grunt in the Currie Cup without him and Botha.
Botha will be coached at the Spears by former Bulls coach Frans Ludeke and an illustrious name in the ranks is Duane Vermeulen, one of the stars of the Boks’ series triumph over England in June.
Other South Africans at the Spears are Bulls Super Rugby captain Burger Odendaal, Jean Droste, Lappies Labuschagne and Gerhard van den Heever.
With a host of Sharks players called up yesterday by Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus for the Rugby Championship, the movement overseas of Franco Marais and Garth April, the retirement of Michael Claassens, plus the temporary loss of the above mentioned trio, there is going to be plenty of opportunity for the Sharks’ youngsters in the Currie Cup.
And who will captain them is the big question. Veteran campaigners are like hens’ teeth but there is one gnarled warrior that fits the bill in hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle, who has been left out of Erasmus’ squad.
Ralepelle, who turns 32 next month, has been around the world - never mind the block - and with 25 Test caps behind him is vastly experienced and more than qualified to do the job.
There is a chance that another Springbok front ranker will play Currie Cup for the Sharks in Coenie Oosthuizen. He was not considered for selection for the Bok squad because he is still recovering from the horrific knee injury he sustained playing for the Boks against Ireland in Dublin last November. But the word is that Oosthuizen is just about fit and could play a role for the Sharks.
A look at the probable candidates for the Sharks’ Currie Cup squad suggests the run-on team will be big on youthful energy and hunger.
Other front rowers are Jean-Hubert Meyer and Jean Schoeman, both of whom have played regularly off the bench in Super Rugby; lock candidates include unsung Super Rugby hero Tyler Paul, Hyron Andrews and a former SA Schools lock in 23-year-old Gideon Koegelenberg.
Loose forwards will be well represented by Super Rugby players in Dan du Preez, Jacques Vermeulen and Wian Vosloo.
Both of the Super Rugby scrumhalves in will be on duty in Cameron Wright and Louis Schreuder; Robert du Preez will be the flyhalf; centres are well stocked with talent in Marius Louw, the 22-year-old former Grey College flank-turned-centre, Johan Deysel, and former SA Under-20 captain Jeremy Ward.
There is no shortage of quality wings in star Super Rugby players Kobus van Wyk and Makazole Mapimpi, and Leolin Zas; and at fullback there is the imperious Curwin Bosch.