DURBAN – The last time the Sharks players got behind Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira they smashed the Lions by 40 points at Ellis Park in one of their best performances of the last three years under Robert du Preez.
They couldn’t back it up, though, proceeding to heavily lose two games at home as their unfortunate inconsistency kicked in, but that “We did it for Beast” performance underlines just what this team is capable of and it will be the benchmark they are aiming for at Newlands tomorrow.
The stakes, of course, are extremely high given that the loser’s Super Rugby season will perish with the final whistle.
If it is the Sharks, the failure to make the playoffs will mean a failed season and that would probably mean the end for the coach as his bosses examine the performance clause in his contract (which runs until the end of 2020).
And for a number of Sharks players it would also mean the end of their careers in Durban. The likes of Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Rob du Preez and Jacques Vermeulen (all of whom are in tomorrow’s team) plus injured seniors in Ruan Botha, Akker van der Merwe and Philip van der Walt would want the Sharks to win to give them a chance of a farewell in a quarter-final, at least.
The Stormers also have their cause to play for. We know that Robbie Fleck is finishing up and while his employers clearly don’t back him, his players do. Whatever issues the Stormers have had, a lack of affection for their coach is not one of them.
So just as the Sharks want to give senior servants such as Mtawarira the best possible send-off, the same goes for the Stormers with Fleck.
Mtawarira is back after a knee injury suffered on tour nearly two months ago, and coach Du Preez is indeed pleased to see the return of the 33-year-old talisman for such an eventful match.
“He is a huge positive for us, he always brings a big game,” Du Preez acknowledged. “In this big derby, he is going to be especially massive for us... not just with his leadership but in how he plays.
“But it is not about one player, it is about all 23... Every one of them has to deliver.”
Mtawarira takes over from Mzamo Majola in the front row, with Majola playing off the bench. In another tight-five change, injured Botha is replaced by Ruben van Heerden. There is just one change to the backline, Aphelele Fassi reverting to fullback for Curwin Bosch, who has an ankle injury.
The loss of Bosch means Du Preez Jr continues at flyhalf, and his father agrees that it is a high-pressure game for a player who has been out of form.
“Rob played a lot of rugby last year and we wanted to manage him better at the start of the year - the plan was to not play in the first couple of games of the year - but then Curwin got injured and missed the first two games,” Du Preez explained.
“Rob did have a dip in form and when Curwin got his chance (at flyhalf) he stepped up and played really well. For last week’s game against the Jaguares, the thought process was that this is going to be a Test match and we needed experience at (No) 10 and 15, with two players having played at the highest level and with both having great decision-making and kicking games. That was the reason for the selection (restoring Du Preez to 10 and moving Bosch back to fullback.”
The Sharks are:
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Tendai Mtawarira .
Subs: 16 Cullen Collopy, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Rhyno Smith.@MikeGreenaway67