Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – How exactly to accommodate their human freight
train ... that is the fairly pleasant dilemma facing the Sharks ahead of their
Super Rugby finals series qualifier against the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday
(11:40 SA time).
Willem Alberts provided comforting evidence that he is back
to full fitness -- after his impressive series for the Springboks against
England came to a premature end at Coca-Cola Park with a knee problem -- with
some decisive game-time off the bench as the Sharks came from behind to trounce
the Cheetahs 34-15 at the weekend and seal their playoffs berth.
The bruising, 120kg ball-carrier is one of those players who
is sometimes almost too versatile for his own good, given that he can operate
effectively at either No 8 or blindside flank in a starting combo and also
offers possibilities as a second-rower even if at 1.92m he is perhaps not the
tallest lock in town.
His physical relish also makes him an ideal man to infuse
off a bench if the pack he joins has already secured healthy front-foot status
and he is able to inflict further suffering on retreating opponents.
But he is probably a strong option for coach John Plumtree
at lock against the Reds, with promising young Pieter-Steph du Toit ruled out
of the trip with an ankle injury.
The loss of Du Toit, however, is offset by the green light
for seasoned Steven Sykes to travel to Queensland, so Alberts may well be left
to serve loose-forward duty to which he is really best suited.
That said, what guarantee is there of the ex-Lions combatant
automatically breaking into the start-out Sharks loose trio?
For both of the ultimately impressive, successive home derby
victories over the Bulls and Cheetahs, the hosts have been wonderfully served
by the in-form trio of captain Keegan Daniel at No 6, Marcell Coetzee back in more
of a blindside mode after his Bok strides on the open side, and Ryan Kankowski
packing a resurgent punch in the No 8 jersey.
It was a reflection of their present gelling as a
combination that all three registered tries as the Sharks tossed aside their
first-half slumber to dot down four times in the second half of the key win
over the initially resistant Cheetahs.
The last-named player, in particular, is currently serving
up some of the best rugby of his near seven-year first-class career, combining
his renowned athleticism with notably more “grunt” at close quarters than he
used to sport.
Against the Bulls, especially, he was also a massively
influential factor at the lineout, causing problems for the visitors on their
own throw and banking his own ball convincingly – he is important in this facet
because the Sharks’ lineout collectively is not the most revered in the Super
The Durban-based side are so blessed with loose forward
options right now (veteran Jacques Botes has also earned a ticket to
Queensland) that coach John Plumtree even saw fit to declare another Bok hard
man, Jean Deysel, surplus to immediate requirements.
Deysel has not made quite the impact expected of him since
his return to the fray from a long-term injury, and may be expected instead to
rediscover his mojo in the looming Currie Cup.
Certainly the back three of the scrum is one department
where Plumtree has a greater array of blessings at present than, say, Cape
counterpart Allister Coetzee who has been forced by a terrible injury jinx to
do a spectacular amount of chopping and changing and no lack of experimentation
for much of the Stormers’ successful ordinary-season campaign.
It is still hoped – though it must be considered a long shot
that they would truly be battle-ready -- that either of Schalk Burger or Duane
Vermeulen will be in the mix for the home semi-final after a welcome bye week.
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