Sharks coach Sean Everitt has some interesting selection choices to make in his pack of forwards as he addresses the alarming reverse that took place at Loftus Versfeld at the weekend.
Everitt has two forwards back from injury for Saturday’s home match against the Stormers in openside flanker James Venter and hooker Dan Jooste, with the return of the latter timeous because of an injury picked up by Fez Mbatha against the Bulls.
Venter was a first-choice loose forward when the Sharks were in such good form during Super Rugby last year but after lockdown he has mostly been on the outer, either because of injuries or because of the hot form of Dylan Richardson.
Richardson has been injured for a while now and Siya Kolisi has been wearing the No 6 jersey. But the way that Kolisi plays is different to how Venter and Richardson play and I am not sure if using Kolisi at openside suits the way the Sharks play when they are enjoying their best rugby.
Last February and March, when the Sharks were playing so well with their brand of counter-attacking rugby, they had Venter playing to the ball.
In the Sharks’ game model, maybe Kolisi should be more of a blindside flank, although that would mean dropping the other Venter, Henco.
Whatever the case, I think the Sharks play better with a genuine fetcher.
It can be argued with merit, though, that it doesn’t matter who you play in your loose trio if your tight five is getting hammered. When that happens, the loosies get sucked into the rearguard action and disappear.
That was very evident in the second half of the Sharks’ 43-9 loss to the Bulls. The home team’s slow poison up front began taking its toll soon after half-time and after having led 12-9, the Bulls accelerated in the second 40 to score 32 unanswered points as the Sharks’ forwards fell away.
Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett went as far as saying that the Sharks forwards “gave up”, and if that does not fire a response from the Durban pack, what will? The thing is, it is the Stormers that are coming to town, and they are sensing blood in the Shark Tank.
The Capetonians are smarting after having lost three matches in a row to the Sharks across varying competitions, and as captain Steven Kitshoff said just after his team had squeaked home against the Lions: “We owe the Sharks one ...”
The Stormers will feel they would have beaten the Sharks but for two reds cards they were dealt when the teams met a fortnight ago, and then there was the Currie Cup semifinal, also in Cape Town, where the Western Provinces forwards were on top but some freakish goal kicking from Curwin Bosch helped his team win the day.
The other match between the teams was the Super Rugby game on March 15 last year, at Jonsson Kings Park, when a Sharks team in red hot form comprehensively won. That was the last game before lockdown, and then when rugby resumed, these two teams had two fixtures called off because of Covid-19 outbreaks at the Sharks.