Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Durban - They haven’t even played a pre-season friendly and their Super Rugby campaign is still a month away, but already the Sharks are reeling following an injury to a player they can least afford to lose.
When Beast Mtawarira broke his leg in training last week it effectively robbed the Sharks of what was going to be one of their strong-points. The all Springbok front row of Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis was being expected to play the strong momentum deriving role that they performed in the successful 2010 Currie Cup campaign.
Now the Sharks are going to have to search for a replacement from within the squad. While they made the Currie Cup final last year, a callow Sharks tight five was shown up frequently, and the loss of such an experienced player leaves a hole that coach John Plumtree has admitted will be difficult to plug. The Springbok has been ruled out of rugby for 12 weeks, which effectively means he will miss at least the first eight games the Sharks play.
“It is a big blow to lose a seasoned Springbok, particularly one that was such a big part of our plans,” admitted Plumtree.
“It was a bit of a bitter-sweet week for us last week. We received confirmation that our experienced lock Steve Sykes would be returning to us from overseas, only for that to be counter-balanced by the loss of Beast.”
The problem for Plumtree is that he has only just released Eugene van Staden, who can play both sides of the scrum, to Biarritz. It means he is going to have to dig deep into his squad for a replacement who can wear the No 1 jersey in the initial parts of the campaign, with former Westville Boys High pupil Dale Chadwick possibly being the man who will be expected to embark on a sharp learning curve.
Chadwick did impress on occasion during the Currie Cup last year and with the two Du Plessis brothers alongside him there is no reason why he shouldn’t confirm that promise. He is considered to be a player with a lot of potential, though he is still young for a prop. Failing that Plumtree has the option of Kyle Cooper, the young former Under-21 hooker who is being tried as a loosehead, while Wiehan Herbst could also possibly slot in on the tighthead side to enable Jannie du Plessis to pack down at loosehead in some games.
What the Sharks don’t have though is the depth they had at loose forward when they were in the difficult position of having both Springbok captain John Smit, who could play anywhere in the front-row, and the best hooker in the country, Bismarck du Plessis, available to them.
The Sharks start their season with a warm-up game against Boland Cavaliers in Durban on Friday night and follow up with a match against the Kings to conclude their pre-season preparations. They begin their Super Rugby campaign against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on February 24.