White 'honeymoon period over'
Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - Jake White has indicated that any kind of honeymoon period is over for his Cell C Sharks team, with the next three weeks of Vodacom Super Rugby presenting a significant step up from what has gone before for his log-leading side.
According to the supersport.com website, the good news for Sharks fans is that their team will be going into the sequence of matches described by White as a massive challenge - against the Reds (home), Vodacom Bulls (away) and Waratahs (home) - with the significant presence of JP Pietersen back in the mix.
The Springbok returns from Japan on Monday, and it appears that White will be ready to select him straight back into the starting line-up if he comes through training looking in good nick.
“He’s not automatically going to play, but if he flies in and quickly learns what we want, he is an international player, so if we need him and we think it’s what we need in terms of what he can add to the game, then we will select him,” said White.
“I won’t say now who will lose out, but that is not really the way to put it. No player loses out. The squad is important if you want to win Super Rugby, and as I have said to the guys, when you get your winners medals at the end of the season if you go all the way, it doesn’t say on it how much you played.”
To that end, White, who already found himself benefitting in terms of growth of squad depth by his early call for substitutions against the Lions, will use this coming weekend to ensure as many players as possible are ready to be called on during the next phase of competition if it is necessary.
“We have a home game against Western Province for our Vodacom Cup team so it is an opportunity for me to give some players on the fringes who haven’t played too much rugby a chance to play. If they get a start in the Vodacom Cup it will get them ready for the next five or six tough weeks.”
In other words, some of the bench players might find themselves playing Vodacom Cup this week, something that will be for their own good.
A big question ahead of the match against the Reds at Growthpoint Kings Park this coming Saturday will be the availability of Patrick Lambie. The flyhalf pulled out of the Lions match at the 11th hour because of what White described as a glandular problem, but which was understood from other members of the Sharks operation to be tick bite fever.
If it is indeed tick bite fever, Lambie might struggle to be ready for Saturday, but White should have no qualms about fielding Frans Steyn in the No 10 jersey again should it be necessary to do so. Steyn’s match winning performance was another big plus from their derby win. Apart from 17 points with the boot, six of those from long range penalties, and a perfect record when aiming at the posts, Steyn was strong with his allround game.
“Frans is amazing. He got told just before kick-off that he would be playing at 10. I have confidence in him, and he showed just how good he is. He just slotted in and it wasn’t only his kicking, but the way he played the whole game. It was the third game in a row that he has played the full 80 minutes and that’s pleasing not just for myself but also for the South African selectors.”
White said that he had advised Lambie to spend the day in bed when he informed him early on Saturday that his glands were still swollen and had been sick overnight.
“I had to place Tim Swiel and Fred Zeilinga on standby after Pat missed the captain’s practice the day before the game. They were both part of the Sharks XV squad playing a Vodacom Cup game in East London and I wasn’t sure how much game time either of them would get in that match and how that would impact on their availability. As it turned out Fred got 70 minutes and Tim got 10 but because neither of them were injured I was able to call Fred up to the bench.”
After coaching the Brumbies for two years and being in the same conference as them, White probably has a better knowledge of the two Australian rivals, the Reds and Waratahs, that his team faces in the next month than other South African coaches. He says he’s looking forward to applying his knowledge of Australian rugby against those teams now that he is back on the South African side of the fence.
“The Australians ask different questions, they play a different kind of rugby. The Reds have Quade Cooper and Will Genia and that will be the challenge this week, while the Waratahs have an abrasive pack of forwards and in that sense are not unlike the Bulls. I know what makes those two franchises tick having coached in Australia and I am looking forward to it.”