Jean-Luc du Preez of the Sharks Photo: EPA/LUKAS COCH

DURBAN - Youngsters in the Sharks team are nothing new, it is what they pin their hats, and their hopes on, but when you realise that Jean-Luc du Preez is only 21-years-old, it still surprises.

The big flanker, with a big engine, is a star performer for the Sharks, and not only in one aspect. He is equally good at carrying the ball or defending and seems to be the complete package.

The young Springbok has been enthused ahead of his team’s trip to Johannesburg, to one of the biggest rugby fortresses around in Ellis Park, asking for a complete performance from his own side.

Du Preez offers a lot of the traditional qualities of a Sharks team, and pack. He is a busy player and never far from the action, he works hard on stopping the opposition and looks to dominate tackles with abrasive defence.

As a ball carrier, he mimics old stars such as Bismarck du Plessis, Willem Alberts and Frans Steyn for ferocity.

It is probably a bit of a big call to declare that he is the cornerstone of the Sharks pack, but he certainly has the all-round qualities that the team could aspire to in order to beat a Lions side that will be the heavy favourites come 5pm in Johannesburg.

Nevertheless, the balance of work Du Preez puts in between defence and attack is at least something that the whole team is behind. “We’re happy with the balance between attack and defence,” Du Preez explained. “Last year we were a bit more defensively orientated but we’ve shifted towards a bit more attack this year. I think we’re approaching a complete game much more than before.”

This working towards a complete, well-rounded game, is something that seems to be paying dividends for the Sharks as well. They have had a decent start, and despite a blip or two along the way, only seem to be improving.

“It’s been good so far, four out of five wins is not too bad, so we’ve had a good start,” Du Preez explained.

“We could have made it five out of five if we hadn’t slipped up against the Reds. After four out of five wins, I think we’re on our way there. There is obviously room for improvement.”

The Sharks can boast two wins against Aussie opposition, and two against South African teams, but their clash with the Lions will be their litmus test and really put into perspective how far they have come.

Rustiness affected their game against the Reds, complacency against the Kings, but what they have never blamed has been the injuries.

“It has been hard losing key, players like Keegan Daniel, Pat Lambie and Philip van der Walt, but it’s up to the individual, who comes in, to step up. You can’t be hesitant, that’s where it’s all about professionalism,” Du Preez added, and also went on to mention how good it was to be playing alongside his twin brother, Daniel, last week; another prospect the Sharks could throw into the mix against the fleet-footed Lions.

The Mercury