DURBAN - The Sharks are likely to have an injection of prime Klerksdorp beef in the form of Andre Esterhuizen for Saturday’s much-anticipated Super Rugby opener against the Lions at Ellis Park.
The burly 23-year-old inside centre returned from club duty in Japan just over a week ago but was not considered for the away friendly against Racing 92 in Hong Kong.
Sharks backline coach, Dick Muir, the ever beaming and highly personable former Shark and Springbok centre, explained: “Andre played a lot of rugby in Japan so we felt it was not a good idea to use him for the Racing trip so that he would be fresh for this opening game against the Lions.”
Muir, also a former Sharks coach and an assistant under Peter De Villiers at the Springboks from 2008 to 2011, said that the powerfully-built, 103kg Esterhuizen is very much available for selection.
In the two warm-up games played by the Sharks against the Bulls and Paris club Racing, the No 12 has been Marius Louw, who has been in very good form, scoring twice against Racing.
He was a flanker at school at Grey College in Bloemfontein but has converted to centre at the Sharks Academy and is proving to be a block-busting No 12. Sharks fans will certainly see a lot more of him over the course of the three-month competition.
“It is nice to have the competition we have got in every position in the backline and for the guys that do not get selected to start on Saturday, it is hard luck for them,” Muir said.
“And it is young competition so while we may be short on experience, we are certainly not short of enthusiasm, and that is what you want - hungry youngsters pushing each other.”
Muir, who took the Sharks to the Super Rugby final at Kings Park in 2007 only to lose in the last minute to the Bulls, is finding being back at Kings Park something of an eye-opener.
“It has been very interesting coming back and seeing the young talent that is available and also a revelation to work with a different coaching staff - headed by Muir’s former Sharks and Crusaders team-mate Robert du Preez - and I guess we are feeding off each other’s experience. It has been a very exciting return to top level rugby.”
Muir said that he has been thrilled to work with the likes of new signing Makazole Mapimpi, the golden nugget that was buried in rural Border rugby before being unearthed by Kings coach Deon Davids, who made the 27-year-old a star within a year.
It is incredible that such a talent was nearly lost to top flight SA rugby, buried in the country districts until last year.
“Makazole has blown me away by what he offers on the field,” said Muir, himself a product of the Eastern Cape. “He is incredibly quick and his communication on the field is excellent.”
Mapimpi is surely going to start on one wing against the Lions, with Kobus van Wyk on the other, meaning the outrageously talented Sbu Nkosi might have to bide his time before getting a start, despite being on the fringe of Springbok selection last year before getting injured late in the season.
Holding the back three together will be the experienced Lwazi Mvovo, the former Springbok wing who is being reinvented at fullback
“Lwazi is very good on the high ball and has been working hard on his kicking game,” Muir said.
“The balance in the back three is very important, and Lwazi has been around a long tine. We know the Lions will target us on the high ball.”