IT was a day of bad and good news for the Sharks yesterday when they left for New Zealand — and their Super Rugby quarter-final against the Hurricanes — accompanied by lock Ruan Botha but missing tighthead prop Lourens Adriaanse.
The towering Botha has been cleared by Sanzaar to travel to Wellington but Adriaanse, their first-choice tighthead, has stayed behind in Durban for family reasons.
Botha, who has shown encouraging form this month after recovering from injury, has played in only three of the mandatory four games necessary to qualify for the playoffs. But the former Stormers lock was listed as an injured player at the start of the season and head coach Gary Gold this week successfully applied for special dispensation. Last night the Sharks said that Botha had permission from Sanzaar to accompany the squad but, curiously, they had not yet cleared him to play.
The loss of Adriaanse, who has consistently been the Sharks’ strongest scrummager this season, is a major blow with the Sharks wanting to place the Hurricanes under pressure at the set-piece. Coenie Oosthuizen and Thomas du Toit will cover tighthead on Saturday with Beast Mtawarira and Dale Chadwick the looseheads.
The Sharks are still without Springbok flyhalf Pat Lambie, who is still suffering from the symptoms of concussion, but Springbok fullback Willie le Roux, first-choice centre Paul Jordaan and flank Jean-Luc du Preez have returned to full fitness and are in the squad. Jean-Luc’s twin brother, backrower Dan du Preez, is still out with a torn groin muscle and Gold says the 20-year-old now faces surgery.
Le Roux has not played since the June Tests against Ireland while Jordaan damaged a knee against the Lions earlier this month.
Mtawarira, who is likely to lead the team on Saturday, and lock Stephan Lewies are certain to return to the starting line-up. (Mtawarira was rested against the Sunwolves at the weekend while Lewies played off the bench).
Mtawarira, speaking before the squad flew out of Durban, said he had been impressed at the way the young Sharks team had “stepped up” this season.
“Everyone is excited about reaching the playoffs. But now it is crunch time and we will have to take chances. I’m confident that if we produce our best performance, we have a massive chance.”
The Beast said it was key that the forwards stood up to the New Zealanders physically.
“We have to start well and get into the game from the start.”
Lewies, who has had fitness problems in recent seasons, said he was delighted to have had an injury-free season.
“I’m enjoying being with this young group of players and they have helped in getting back into form. But I have also been playing alongside [fellow lock] Etienne Oosthuizen since 2014 and that has also given me confidence.”
The quarter-final kicks off at 9.35 am on Saturday (SA time) and New Zealander Glen Jackson will be the referee.
Sharks’ 25-man touring squad
Forwards: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Coenie Oosthuizen, Dale Chadwick, Etienne Oosthuizen, Franco Marais, Hyron Andrews, Jean-Luc du Preez, Keegan Daniel, Philip van der Walt, Ruan Botha, Stephan Lewies, Tendai Mtawarira (captain), Tera Mtembu, Thomas du Toit.
Backs: Andre Esterhuizen, Curwin Bosch, Garth April, JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo, Michael Claassens, Odwa Ndungane, Paul Jordaan, S’bura Sithole, Stefan Ungerer, Willie le Roux.