The off-season has been just about interminable after the drama of the Rugby World Cup last year, but Super Rugby is finally upon us. And while the Sharks do not have the most salubrious of opening encounters, away to the unfashionable Kings, they are hell bent on making a statement on Saturday.
Some would say there is no softer match this weekend given that the Kings are returning to Super Rugby from the flimsiest of platforms, but this kind of talk is precisely why coach Gary Gold is in a cautious mood.
Indeed, he says “complacency” is a major watchword this week.
“It would be naive and arrogant to in any way underrate the Kings,” Gold warned yesterday.
“We have been down this road before. We will never forget how we took the Cheetahs lightly last year and lost at home in the first round.”
Gold said the Sharks’ morale was high after winning two games in the south of France, and although they had picked up a few injuries, they had also been boosted by the return to fitness of one-time Springbok lock Stephan Lewies, who has barely played in two years because of a horrific knee injury.
Gold will be looking for 50 minutes or so from Lewies in Port Elizabeth.
The Sharks lost up-and-coming second-rower Ruan Botha to a hip injury on the tour, and Giant Mtandya (cheekbone) was also crocked. Lewies will team up in the second row with Etienne Oosthuizen, who had a good tour both at lock and on the flank.
Gold said that the squad had come to terms with the loss of captain Patrick Lambie for three months
“It is tough losing your captain, but Patrick was never going to play all the games anyway (as a contracted Springbok), and Garth (April) came through nicely against Toulouse,” Gold said.
With April big on talent but short on experience and composure, it is not a “gimmee” that big Andre Esterhuizen will play 12, and the door could be open for the more subtle skills of Heimar Williams or Namibian international Johan Deysel, both of whom had good tours. Cobus Reinach would partner April at halfback.
With another Namibian, Renaldo Bothma, on the injury list, the loose trio will probably comprise the Du Preez twins and captain Marcell Coetzee.
“The guys are ready to rumble,” Gold said. “It was good preparation in France, and we are glad we did not have lukewarm friendlies in South Africa. Super Rugby is the full metal jacket – unrelenting intensity against the best from five countries.”
Sharks (possible team): 15 Willie le Roux, 14 J P Pietersen 13 Paul Jordaan 12 Andre Esterhuizen 11 Lwazi Mvovo 10 Garth April 9 Cobus Reinach 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez 6 Marcell Coetzee (capt) 5 Etienne Oosthuizen 4 Stephan Lewies 3 Coenie Oosthuizen 2 Kyle Cooper 1 Tendai Mtawarira - The Mercury