Late Bok bid by Sharks wing?

    2015-05-30 17:53
    Cape Town - Kings Park seemed a despondent, soulless and agonisingly slow-motion place on Friday night.

    So thank goodness for the notable exception of Sibusiso “S’bura” Sithole from a Sharks perspective.

    There were gaping gaps on the stands for the largely academic Super Rugby clash against the Rebels, to the extent that you could frequently hear from television the on-field exchanges between players ... including some of the more X-rated ones in a tetchy encounter.

    From a skills and urgency point of view, it was of near-second division quality and the fact that the home side were so visibly elated and relieved afterwards to have strung together a 25-21 triumph - a rare second on the trot - only summed up how far the franchise have sunk this year.

    You have to sympathise with the squad and management for the hideous extent to which injuries have bedevilled their season, and a damaging trend continued here of players pulling out of the starting XV at the eleventh hour.

    On this occasion it was as many as two members of their intended loose trio, with both Ryan Kankowski and Willem Alberts (the latter’s stubbornly stop-start career must be of mounting concern to Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer) failing fitness tests.

    As if to jinx things further, they then surrendered another stalwart in Bok loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira to what appeared an upper-leg injury in the first half.

    “Beast” has walked a tightrope injury-wise in the last few weeks and from a national point of view it may be relatively unwise to pitch him back into the Sharks’ final encounter with the Stormers in Durban in a fortnight, however keen they will be to knock over their fierce coastal rivals and field the gnarliest possible unit to achieve it.

    The more sensible remedy to his niggles - on the assumption his latest setback is not more serious - may be a meaningful rest ahead of the looming Test programme.

    Sharks fans needed a shaft of light to cling to as they filed out of the ageing stadium – local wags might be forgiven for protesting: “It’s not as old as our tight five” - and it came partly from the hasty debut at this level of open-side flanker Khaya Majola, a product of the well-known cricketing family.

    The 23-year-old, comfortingly home-grown player (he was born in Kokstad, educated at Westville Boys’ High and been on the franchise’s books since his youth employment in 2008) grew steadily into the contest both at the breakdown and as a ball-carrier after a quiet start.

    But easily the main beacon of home-town satisfaction was the way left wing Sithole cut through the atmosphere of mediocrity and malaise to produce a truly fire-in-the-belly display.

    Sithole, 24, can pretty much be considered another product of the Sharks’ systems, for although born in Queenstown in the neighbouring Eastern Cape, they have provided his rugby bread and butter from 2009, when he was still a late teenager.

    This is his third year of Super Rugby experience, but he chose Friday for arguably his most satisfying and visible personal game yet.

    Sithole bristled with purpose and enterprise virtually every time he was on the ball, and clearly caught the Rebels unawares of the power and determination that goes into his fairly modest-looking 1.82m, 94kg frame.

    He made important long yardage at times, aided by clever swerving and jinking, but was also able to look more like one of those New Zealand-based juggernaut wings on one occasion, pulling off what SuperSport commentator and former Bok flyhalf Butch James aptly branded a “Maori sidestep” to simply bowl over a front-on defender.

    Just as crucially, James made the point that on the night Sithole departed from the annoying pattern of too many South African backs of simply “dying” with the ball when tackled; he either freed his arms intelligently for the off-load or even slipped through the first challenge to resume his rampage.

    When he notched a thoroughly deserved try, Sithole used incredible leg drive and power to bulldoze his way over the line despite being surrounded by several challengers, more in the manner of a hooker or stout loose forward.

    What could make Sithole an attractive squad option for the Springboks at some stage, if he continues his upward developmental curve, is his versatility: he can be similarly tenacious when fielded at outside centre.

    That is where James says he fancies his future stationing as it potentially allows him more involvement than sometimes catching a cold, as it were, further out.

    He did issue the proviso that Sithole may need further work on his catching and passing skills, but if “ticker” and pure relish provide two thirds of the making of an outside back, he has those ingredients already.

    The former Border Bulldogs man cracked a Bok training squad last year, so it is not as though Meyer is not aware of his potential, and he currently looks in better fettle than someone like team-mate Lwazi Mvovo, who is again part of 2015 national plans but had a dose of the butter-fingers against the Rebels.

    Another dynamic match against the Stormers in the final round of ordinary season (the Sharks have a bye next weekend) could take Sithole closer to green-and-gold status than some people think.

    At the very least, he is running into form at a fitting time.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  sharks springboks super 15 rugby

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