Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Sharks, currently South
Africa’s likeliest hope for a strong Super Rugby playoffs position, may succeed
on Friday (19:10, Kings Park) in one area where the Stormers failed to cash in on
Crusaders disruption a few days previously.
The plucky, currently under-staffed men
from Canterbury, who earned what coach Todd Blackadder branded a “great
outcome” in winning 19-14 in their first tour match on Saturday, experienced
further big-name upheaval even before the first scrum at Newlands, with tighthead
strongman Owen Franks succumbing to a rib cartilage injury.
It will reportedly rule him out of the attractive
clash with the Sharks, who come off a bye and stand atop the South African
conference, three points clear of the surprise package Cheetahs who have also
played one game more.
Franks’ misfortune meant that regular
loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett had to switch to duty on his “wrong” side of the set-piece,
with inexperienced substitute Joe Moody entering the fray early in the second
quarter in the No 1 spot.
Yet the Stormers – themselves, it must be
said, missing suspended first-choice loosehead Steven Kitshoff on the night –
could not gain any great traction at scrum-time, with acting No 1 Pat Cilliers
(ironically more at home himself on the tighthead side) unable to genuinely trouble
Crockett in his re-arranged position.
Moody, in his first season at Super Rugby
level, also more than held his own against 22-year-old Stormers tighthead Frans
Malherbe, which may only fuel further those who suspect the Capetonians boast
future promise rather than much-needed immediate steel in their front row.
Blackadder was quick to enthuse, when
probed by Sport24 after Saturday’s tight and uncompromising contest, about his
pack’s resilience in the scrums despite the huge Franks setback.
“They were terrific ... Joe Moody is a
great prop; one strong, helluva boy. Crocky moved into tighthead with not a lot
of experience at this level, although he did go in there against the Bulls too.
“He did a fine job: Wyatt Crockett is a
tough man anyway, and he just showed his versatility.”
It is probably just as well that the
Crusaders’ existing prop staff are showing spirit in adversity, because the
franchise gave up Franks’ just as highly-rated brother Ben to the Hurricanes
before the start of 2013.
They have the option on Friday of giving
Moody a start at loosehead, with Crockett more formally deployed at No 3, or
sticking with the latter in his best position and introducing 21-year-old Nepo
Laulala at tighthead.
The raw Laulala is a brother of Casey
Laulala, the former Crusaders and two-cap All Black midfielder who now plies
his trade in the northern hemisphere with Munster.
Whichever “emergency” front row combination
they opt for, the Crusaders are sure to know that it will be tested more
vigorously by the Sharks, the South African side with the best scrummaging
reputation at present.
If the mood suitably grabs him, Beast
Mtawarira is capable of giving either the inexperienced Laulala or
out-of-position Crockett a real working-over, and he is likely to be partnered
at prop by gnarly fellow-Springbok tighthead Jannie du Plessis.
Promisingly for the Sharks, whenever the
veteran Du Plessis has been “rotated” to preserve his fitness and lustre, Klerksdorp-born
Wiehahn Herbst has deputised most capably, to the point that he may even be
second-best South African tighthead in pure scrumming terms right now.
The particularly ecstatic way in which the
Crusaders celebrated their Newlands win summed up just how hard-fought the
scrap had been, and also how commendably they had done to winkle it out so
deservedly despite some of their most iconic names missing.
“We take great confidence out of
(Newlands),” captain George Whitelock said. “This was our first game on tour
and a lot of young guys got plenty of game-time in such a high-pressure venue.
“There’s a short turnaround now (to face) a
pretty impressive Sharks team so we look forward to Friday night.”
Expect the home side to have made some
useful mental notes out of the Stormers’ failings ... including that glaring inability
to capitalise on the Crusaders’ mini-crisis at prop.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing