DURBAN – The Sharks leave for Argentina on Tuesday morning without two of their best backline players, short on confidence and in full knowledge that the Jaguares are licking their chops ahead of Saturday’s vital Africa Group 2 showdown.
The red card shown Andre Esterhuizen on Saturday night for a tip tackle on a Rebels player has morphed into a whopping six-week ban after Monday’s Judicial hearing and in-form wing Kobus van Wyk has not recovered from the freak calf strain he picked up in the warm-up before the Rebels game.
“It is terribly disappointing to lose such influential players, and we saw how disruptive it was in the Rebels game itself, with the backline having to be reshuffled before kick-off and then Andre carded early on,” coach Robert du Preez said before announcing his squad to take on the Jaguares.
The Sharks had hoped to reap five log points against the Rebels but had to settle for two while the Argentinians picked up a bonus point in their narrow loss to the Lions.
That means the Sharks are four points ahead of their opponents on Saturday, and suddenly the Sharks are not talking about chasing the Lions but keeping ahead of the Jaguares.
“It is all to play for this week,” Du Preez said. “It could end up a deciding game for us in terms of where we finish on the log. We simply have to bounce back with a great performance and bag the four points.”
Esterhuizen was a key member of the backline in that he called the shots on defence and attack (as one of the most experienced Sharks backs).
“Andre is very remorseful. He was sorry immediately it happened and apologised to the Rebels player (which was taken in mitigation of sentence by the Hearing),” Du Preez said. “It can happen to any player in the heat of the moment. Every rugby player knows about the consequences of the tip tackle yet you get one just about every game. It is easy to be judgmental when you watch in slow motion but the game is a blur.
“It is such a pity for Andre because he was having a great season and was in for contention for SA A at least and probably the Boks,” Du Preez added
The door has opened at centre for young talent Johan Deysel, the Namibian international, and SA Under 21 captain Jeremy Ward is also in contention, although he is more of a 13.
Du Preez said that the fiasco that was the Rebel match had been put to bed yesterday morning after it had been reviewed in all its gory detail, and it was “done and dusted.”
“The review just confirmed how much we let down fans, friends and family. We could not get going after Andre went off, there was no composure and we went into our shell and could not finish anything off, which is a big concern. We know this week we have to take anything that comes our way, it is going to be tough over there but I believe we have the firepower to beat them.”
The Jaguares have not lost at home this year and having suffered three narrow losses in South Africa, they will want to make amends at home.
Du Preez said that there would be changes to the side but it was not a case of wielding the axe.
“Look, there will be changes, and it won’t be because of under performance but we need to give players that have been on the bench for a while a chance. We are taking over a very good squad and I have no hesitation in giving new guys a chance,” he said.
Interestingly, veteran Odwa Ndungane has been recalled to the squad for the first time this year. Players not considered because of injury were: Garth April, Inny Radebe, Pat Lambie, Kobus van Wyk and Keegan Daniel.
Sharks touring squad
Forwards: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Coenie Oosthuizen, Daniel du Preez, Etienne Oosthuizen, Franco Marais, Jean-Luc du Preez, John-Hubert Meyer, Lourens Adriaanse, Philip van der Walt, Ruan Botha, Stephan Lewis, Tendai Mtawarira, Tera Mtembu, Thomas du Toit
Backs: Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Cobus Reinach, Curwin Bosch, Jeremy Ward, Johan Deysel, Lukhanyo Am, Lwazi Mvovo, Michael Claassens, Odwa Ndungane, Rhyno Smith, Sbu Nkosi.