Hamilton – The Sharks arrived in New Zealand on Thursday in a resolute mood to confound their critics when they open their tour against the Chiefs on Saturday.
The Sharks have had a difficult fortnight following losses to the Stormers and Cheetahs, not to mention sustaining further injuries, and coach John Plumtree has picked a side that has a number of fresh new faces as he looks to rest battle-weary players such as regular captain Keegan Daniel, Marcell Coetzee and Franco van der Merwe.
“People who have written us off are in for a surprise,” said burly captain Jean Deysel, who gained experience in leading the side in last year’s Currie Cup.
“We, as players, see things differently. There is a lot of excitement in the side and eagerness to prove a point. We are all excited to play for the jersey, whether it is a guy making his debut or earning his 50th cap. That is the overwhelming sentiment in the squad – we are going out to do the Sharks proud.”
Deysel said there remained a strong backbone of experienced players, and that the newcomers did not feel unsettled.
“Guys like Jannie du Plessis and I have been around for a while in the pack, and in the backs Frans Steyn is a respected World Cup Springbok, while Meyer Bosman has played many seasons of Super Rugby.”
Piet Lindeque is making his debut on the wing, but he has Steyn alongside him (at outside centre), and Odwa Ndungane and Riaan Viljoen are experienced players.
“Likewise, Tera Mtembu is not going to feel alone out there in the loose trio,” Deysel said.
“He will have myself and Derick Minnie with him, and while it is Derick’s first game for the Sharks, he is obviously very experienced from his time with the Lions.
“Just watch Derick go,” Deysel promised.
“I have played with him (when Deysel was at the Lions) and against him, and he is a fearless player. He has been there and done that, and will give us an edge. He loves ruck time and the confrontation that you need to dominate in New Zealand. He is the ideal player for matches in New Zealand.”
Deysel said that there was no greater character test than playing the champions on their home turf.
“It is the perfect stage for guys to put their hands up, and we have a lot of guys who want to show what they are made of, whether it is youngsters making their debuts or senior guys getting a chance (because of rotation). There have been a number of changes and with that comes responsibility, and I will have no problem motivating the guys. In fact, the last few days I have had to try and calm them down.”
Deysel said a case in point was Mtembu, who makes his debut at No 8.
“Tera has been waiting for his chance for a long time. He is keen to get going in the senior side after having come through the ranks. I played with him in the Sharks XV when I was coming back from injury, and I know what a tough player he is.
“He can play a tight game, or loosen it up if the game goes that way. He is versatile, but most of all he does not shy away from the physical stuff, and we need that against the Chiefs.”
If the Sharks have their way when they have the ball, the game will loosen up.
“This tour we are putting a big emphasis on scoring tries and giving the ball air. We are not far off scoring tries, we just need to be less predictable,” Deysel said.
Meanwhile, Sharks coach John Plumtree refused to comment on the dropping of No 8 Ryan Kankowski from the tour squad, except to say: “It is sad for all parties that Ryan is not touring, but talking is best done on the field.”
Kankowski had said earlier this week that he was shocked when told he would not be touring with the Sharks. – The Mercury