A TAXING Australasian tour took its toll on the Sharks and a couple of injuries picked up in the final tour clash have forced changes ahead of their match against the Rebels tomorrow night in Durban.
The Sharks finally ended their six-match losing streak by beating the Reds 21-14 last Friday, but the Durban outfit paid the price with some serious injuries to big-name players.
Director of rugby Gary Gold yesterday confirmed the worst fears over lock Stephan Lewies and centre Frans Steyn.
The Springbok lock ruptured his patella (knee cap) tendon coming down at a lineout and will play no further part in the Super Rugby campaign — it may have even ended his World Cup hopes.
Meanwhile Steyn suffered a torn pectoral (chest) muscle and will also require surgery according to Gold. Their absence will be felt but their respective replacements have been constantly involved this year and should slot in with ease.
The Springbok front row of Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis hold down their starting berths. Meanwhile Mouritz Botha returns to the starting XV in place of Lewies.
The loose trio sees one definite change. Ryan Kankowski, who stayed at home during the tour nursing an injury, returns at eighthman in a rotational switch with the impressive Renaldo Bothma. The blonde bulldozer moves to openside flank in place of Marcell Coetzee, who is rested this week in accordance with the Saru Springbok resting protocol.
The “Bone Collector” Willem Alberts is bracketed with Etienne Oosthuizen at blindside flank and a call on the Springbok’s fitness will be made at the 11th hour.
Whoever ends up starting on the side of the scrum will be in a for a massive challenge, as the Rebels boast a very competitive loose trio — with Wallaby eighthman Scott Higginbotham being in the form of his life.
The backline remains unchanged from the Reds win with the exception of Steyn’s absence. The ever-improving Andre Esterhuizen starts at inside centre.
Yesterday’s press conference was Gold’s first chance to express his thoughts on a tour that had its fair share of ups and downs. While the Sharks lost three of four matches Down Under, the squad have come back upbeat despite the results and loss of key players to injuries. Gold conceded the win over the Reds was important to claim some reward for steadily improving outings in the Antipodes.
“It was important for numerous reasons; we worked hard for the full four weeks of tour and how desperately they deserved some reward. It wasn’t the best performance but was pretty effective. There are still areas to work on that we feel were sub-standard, but at this stage of the year it was a very important victory and I’m proud of how the guys stuck to their task,” Gold said.
While the Sharks found their attacking mojo, it was sloppy defensive errors that cost them against the Hurricanes and Waratahs — both games were close enough and the Sharks could have taken the results had they been more clinical. Gold said just as much.
“No one has denied that our defence leading up to the tour had been woeful. There were definitely situations that were well below our standards, that all capitulated in the Crusaders game [Sharks lost 52-10 at home in March]. When we had the opportunity to tour we sat down and put focus on areas we believed were important, none more so than the defence,” Gold said.
“That was a combined decision. It was not one person’s fault or reason why the defence wasn’t working. There are numerous reasons why it doesn’t function. It was a very important time for us to spend more time on tour together, to put a lot of focus into it. We’re still very disappointed in the Highlanders’ performance, a couple of soft tries in the game and we felt that everything capitulated from there.
“I have to commend the character of everyone on tour. The team were outstandingly well-led by Marco [Wentzel].
“Even in the Waratahs and Hurricanes games that we weren’t successful in, how much of a difference it made for us to carry on in the fight. Even when we were mathematically out of the competition, we were still going to stick to our task. From our point of view, we have two home games and we know for the continuity of the Union how critically important it is that we continue on winning ways,” Gold said.
The Sharks host the Rebels in Durban tomorrow night. Kickoff is at 7.10 pm.
Sharks: Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Andre Esterhuizen, S’bura Sithole, Lionel Cronje, Stefan Ungerer, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts/Etienne Oosthuizen, Renaldo Bothma, Marco Wentzel (c), Mouritz Botha, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Franco Marais, Matt Stevens, Lourens Adriaanse, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Etienne Oosthuizen/Khaya Majola, Conrad Hoffmann, Fred Zeilinga, Heimar Williams