DURBAN – In just over a month, the Sharks kick off their Super Rugby campaign in Singapore against the Sunwolves, and if the positive refrain emanating from the Kings Park power-bearers is anything to go by, it is going to be happy days for Sharks fans on 16 February and beyond.
At yesterday’s training session, Sharks chief executive Gary Teichmann spoke of a “talented, well-balanced squad,” coach Robert du Preez frankly observed that “we have the makings for a great season” while newly-appointed captain Louis Schreuder highlighted the “growth and momentum” generated by winning the Currie Cup.
The stars have indeed been aligning for the Sharks for a while now but the brutal truth is that in Super Rugby the Durbanites have not been delivering on their promise, and if they can’t secure a top-four finish this year, at least, then when will they?
Du Preez, to his credit, yesterday acknowledged that there can no longer be excuses, such as the youthfulness of the squad. Quite rightly so when you consider that the Sharks’ internal leadership group includes vastly experienced players in Lwazi Mvovo, Schreuder, former captain Ruan Botha, Philip van de Walt, the veteran Tendai Mtawarira (the vice-captain for 2019), battle-scarred Coenie Oosthuizen and the sprightly Lukhanyo Am.
Incidentally the Sharks’ leadership group has 12 members, and it was that collective that voted in Schreuder as captain for the year, in the place of outgoing captain Botha. It is an impressive recognition of player power that the captaincy issued was decided by the players, not the coaching staff.
Bubbling under are youthful but already ring-wise talents in Thomas du Toit, Sbu Nkosi, Jeremy Ward, Tyler Paul and the Du Preez brothers....
Speaking of which, Jean-Luc is the one serious pre-season casualty the Sharks have. The Springbok flank sustained a serious groin injury playing for Sale Sharks last month and his comeback is set for halfway through the Sharks’ Super Rugby campaign.
Jean-Luc’s brothers, Dan and Robert, also for the first time played overseas in the South African off-season, as did Curwin Bosch, who went to Japan when the Du Preezs were in England. Of the players that went to Japan, Bosch, Andre Esterhuizen and Botha are already back while Van der Walt’s return is imminent.
Coach Du Preez said that the players that had topped up their Currie Cup seasons with overseas stints had come back changed men.
“It was a huge positive for them,” Du Preez said. “They came back so pleased with what they had learned in foreign environments. I think it is a really good thing for players to learn from other rugby cultures. It was unfortunate that Jean-Luc got injured in that time, but overall I think it is a very good thing for players to broaden their horizons.”
Jean-Luc aside, the Sharks are in rude health. Their physios are mostly idle, and in the starting blocks after their serious injuries last year are Boks in Oosthuizen, Am, Makazole Mapimpi and Mtawarira. Incidentally, the three Du Preez brothers are not on course to join the Leicester Tigers, as the English press have speculated. Not yet anyway.
They are contracted to the Sharks until the end of Super Rugby in 2020. And Bosch, who some have speculated might be seeking pastures new because of his lack of game time last year in his favoured position of flyhalf, is contracted to the Sharks until the end of 2021.
Sharkie went around Durban to hang out with a number of young fans ahead of the Sharks Fun Day this weekend. If your kids would like to meet him as well, bring them down to JONSSON KINGS PARK at 10am this Saturday.🦈 pic.twitter.com/ZdprPjwzOr— The Sharks (@TheSharksZA) January 17, 2019
The subject of Bosch, who had to play at fullback during Super Rugby last season while Robert started every game at No 10, brings to mind just how inflexible the Sharks were last year in terms of player rotation. The coach admitted as much yesterday in concurring that greater player rotation must occur this year, particularly with there being no June break this year because of the Word Cup.
“We should have rotated more last year,” the coach said. “We have got such rich talent... we must back our depth and give new players opportunities every two or three games.”
So all is seemingly in place for the Sharks to enjoy a stellar season. The trick, as always, is transforming potential into results.@MikeGreenaway67