DURBAN – Sharks coach Robert du Preez has freshened up his otherwise seasoned Super Rugby squad with four bright new pins for the trip to the Sunwolves in Singapore on Saturday.
We know about Aphelele Fassi, who enjoyed some exhilarating moments in the Currie Cup last year, but lesser known are 23-year-old hooker Kerron van Vuuren, prop Khutha Mchunu, 21, and No 8 Pendulani “Phepsi” Buthelezi, 20.
Fassi, a product of Dale College in the Eastern Cape, won a bursary to the Sharks Academy after starring at the Kearsney Easter Festival two years ago while Van Vuuren (Glenwood High), Mchunu (also Glenwood) and Buthelezi (Durban High School) have been harvested into the Sharks Academy from the KZN school system.
Van Vuuren had a spell with the Southern Kings last year before returning to the Sharks while Mchunu was blooded in the Currie Cup last year, with three appearances off the bench.
Buthelezi, who was called up to the Junior Springboks in France last year, captained the Sharks Under 19s on their incredible 18-match unbeaten run last year that swept them to the national title. Great things are already being expected of this talent.
Of the four, the 21-year-old Fassi is the one in with a good chance of starting against the Sunwolves and making his Super Rugby debut.
He played in the Currie Cup final on the wing and in eight appearances in the competition he scored four tries, and then there was that eye-catching moment in the Sharks’ match against the Lions when he reeled in from behind flying Springbok wing Aphiwe Dyantyi.
Fassi is unlikely to be considered on the wing given the Sharks have two Bok wings in Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi but there is a vacancy at fullback, his preferred position.
Last year, the No 15 jersey was exclusively the property of Curwin Bosch, who this week was due to start at flyhalf against the Sunwolves.
That had been the plan as the coaching staff looked to manage regular flyhalf Robert du Preez after his stint with Sale Sharks in England during the SA off-season.
Bosch started at 10 in the Sharks’ two warm-up games but in the latter match, against the Bulls, he took a knock to the shoulder that requires him being rested for this game.
Bosch will be back in the selection frame next week for the Sharks’ home game against the Blues, as will the other casualty from the Bulls game, centre Marius Louw.
Du Preez will now have to start at flyhalf and the contenders for the fullback position will be Fassi, veteran wing/fullback Lwazi Mvovo and the versatile Rhyno Smith.
Fassi will at least be on the bench, as will Van Vuuren, who travels as the back-up hooker to Akker van der Merwe. Van Vuuren started against the Lions in the Super Hero match and looked at home in top class rugby.
The Sharks name their side today.
The Sharks squad is:
Akker van der Merwe, Andre Esterhuizen, Aphelele Fassi, Cameron Wright, Coenie Oosthuizen, Daniel du Preez, Gideon Koegelenberg, Hyron Andrews, Jacques Vermeulen, Jeremy Ward, Juan Schoeman, Kerron van Vuuren, Khutha Mchunu, Louis Schreuder (c), Lukhanyo Am, Lwazi Mvovo, Makazole Mapimpi, Phepsi Buthelezi, Rhyno Smith, Robert du Preez, Ruan Botha, Sbu Nkosi, Beast Mtawarira, Tyler Paul, Wian Vosloo.@MikeGreenaway67