Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - Sharks coach John Plumtree has made full use of his one opportunity to experiment as his team prepares for their first Super Rugby preparation game against the Boland Cavaliers in Durban at the weekend.
With the second preparation game against the Kings set for just one week before the opening Super Rugby fixture against the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus, Plumtree will be looking to select his first choice team for the trip to Port Elizabeth. That effectively means that this is his only chance to try out new combinations and select fringe players who might be needed in Super Rugby.
With Conrad Hoffmann out for much of the season after tearing his bicep in the gym during the off-season, scrumhalf is an area of particular concern to the Sharks, which is why Frederic Michalak is being used against the Cavaliers in the position that he was first engaged to cover when he arrived back from France last year.
Michalak lines up alongside Patrick Lambie in a halfback partnership that has exciting possibilities, and the Frenchman will be going all out to push Charl McLeod for his right to be considered the first choice No 9.
In another interesting selection Tim Whitehead plays his first game at inside centre after moving to Durban from the Cape. Meyer Bosman is expected to be the Sharks’ first choice No 12, but Whitehead is highly regarded and should certainly add to the depth in the midfield, something that looks set to be further strengthened by JP Pietersen’s switch to outside centre.
The Pietersen experiment is being continued in this game and another showing like the one he produced in a trial match last week could see him play there more permanently. With Jannie du Plessis away on honeymoon Wiehahn Herbst gets an opportunity to stake a claim as the back-up tighthead prop, with Dale Chadwick being the player who gets a first crack at nailing down vacancy left by the injured Beast Mtawarira at loosehead.
Plumtree’s desire to test his depth is evidenced by the number of probable first choice players named on the bench, with Bosman being joined by McLeod and Ryan Kankowski. Steve Sykes returns to the Sharks at lock but there is no sign at this stage of Alistair Hargreaves. Ross Skeate and Jandre Marais are the locks on the bench, while Pieter-Stephan du Toit, impressive at lock in the trials last week, finds a place in the starting team at blindside flank in a loose trio that also includes the promising Marcell Coetzee and the new captain Keegan Daniel. Teams:
15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Frederic Michalak, 8 Marcell Coetzee. 7 Pieter-Stephan du Toit, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Dale Chadwick
Substitutes: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Ross Skeate, 19 Jandre Marais, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Ryan Kankowski, 22 Lubabalo Teira Mtembu, 23 Charl McLeod, 24 Sibusiso Sithole, 25 Meyer Bosman, 26 Marius Joubert, 27 Paul Jordaan, 28 Louis Ludik