Sharks confident in youngsters
Durban - The defending champion Sharks kick off their ABSA Currie Cup campaign against the Blue Bulls at Kings Park on Saturday, and with the Springboks not available for this year's tournament due to the World Cup, it could be a tough assignment for the Durbanites to successfully defend the coveted trophy.
However, despite losing 16 players to the Springboks, Sharks assistant coach Hugh-Reece Edwards is still confident of their chances in 2011, believing they have the youngsters to step up and make a name for themselves.
"If I'm right, we've lost about 16 players for our campaign, so it's a huge opportunity for a lot of youngsters," Reece-Edwards told Sharks website editor, Michael Marnewick.
"Last year, we had a lot of injured guys coming back from the Boks and playing, but this being a Rugby World Cup year, we are not going to have that. There are a lot of youngsters who've come in, and there's a lot of excitement, a lot of talent along with a few old heads, and we're round about 50-50 with that.
"So we're probably going to have a younger side than we have had before - not necessarily in years, but in heads in terms of experience - and that's exciting. And it's fantastic when you come to training and there are new faces. The older guys have a huge responsibility bringing the younger ones through and the younger ones have huge boots to fill of those who aren't here."
He adds that the weight of expectation hangs over The Sharks - as it does at the start of each campaign - but the challenge is one they have overcome in the past and there is no reason why they cannot do it again.
"There is a certain amount of pressure to perform, for everyone, but that's what this game is all about and that's what we aim for and strive for - how we want to defend this cup - and it all starts this weekend with one of the tougher challenges we could have. But right away, it also gives us an idea of exactly where we are and how the personnel we have can perform going forward.
"As a home game, it's vitally important to get a good result, we have to look at making our home ground a fortress and looking after our results at home."
The Sharks backline has not been too badly affected in terms of numbers missing to the Bok cause, and they boast players in Stefan Terblanche, Marius Joubert, Meyer Bosman, Louis Ludik and Frederic Michalak who all have plenty of experience. Certainly, they will have a role to play in guiding the younger players.
"They come with experience, and then there are guys like Mark Richards who has been hanging around for a while, Sbura Sithole and Paul Jordaan who have played with the SA Sevens; Heimar Williams has looked good and Ross Cronje is with us as well, so there are a lot of youngsters who have been waiting for the opportunity and we'd be stupid not to try to bring them in from time to time to see exactly what we do have, because straight after this, we're getting ready for the next campaign - there's no time really.
So we have to see what we have, where we're short, where we aren't. It's a nice mix, half the guys are old and experienced, the others are young and excited and it's great to coach a group like this."
Looking ahead to the challenge posed by this week's visitors, the Blue Bulls, Reece-Edwards explains that, "You always know what you're going to get with them, there are few surprises about them.
"They've changed their coach for the Currie Cup, Pine Pienaar has taken over, but whether they are going to change their structure completely… probably not. We know what to expect, but if anything, they might move the ball a little more, so we just have to be ready for it.