Sharks poser over Alberts

    2012-07-16 11:16

    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 Rugby business.

    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.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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