Sharks’ bench mongrel key?

    2013-04-10 22:30
    Wiehahn Herbst and Franco van der Merwe (Gallo Images)

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - If the Stormers are struggling to subdue the Sharks around the hour mark in the almost make-or-break Super Rugby derby for them at Newlands on Saturday (17:05), it seems unlikely that they will be able to turn to the bench to any great degree for game-swaying impact.

    Increasingly bedevilled by injuries to senior personnel, the fourth-placed side in the South African conference - with four losses in six games thus far - are starting to show the inevitable signs of strained squad depth.

    The Sharks have several keynote absentees of their own at present, only reflecting the terrible physical toll Super Rugby is taking since its expansion and wholesale alteration in format three years ago, but their reserves will have an immeasurably less “green” look to them for the big coastal clash and could, in many instances, be highly influential in ensuring a sixth win in seven and cementing of their status at the helm of the conference.

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    Jaco Taute (long-term) and Elton Jantjies were just the latest players to be sidelined from the Stormers’ immediate plans in the aftermath of their last-gasp defeat to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last weekend, joining the array of idle customers like Schalk Burger, Eben Etzebeth, Rynhardt Elstadt, Bryan Habana, Gerhard van den Heever, Peter Grant, Don Armand, Tiaan Liebenberg, Scarra Ntubeni and Deon Carstens.

    What the mounting toll means is that the franchise have had to raid their Vodacom Cup ranks with simultaneous stealth - hence the infusion by coach Allister Coetzee to the match 22 of the likes of second-rower Gerbrandt Grobler (bearing in mind that last year’s Baby Bok Ruan Botha recently broke an ankle) and utility back and SA Sevens-schooled Cheslin Kolbe.

    Kolbe is by all accounts an exciting prospect but also painfully wet behind the ears - as you’d expect from a Brackenfell High-educated 19-year-old who some profiles indicate is a mere 69kg and 1.70m.

    With respect, these are hardly household names even at Currie Cup level yet, so the street-wise Sharks will not be trembling over the possibility that the pair enter the fray on Saturday.

    Few of the Stormers bench, really, ooze genuinely hardened Super Rugby experience, leaving a huge onus on players like Pat Cilliers, the Springbok-capped prop reserve, and the gifted but gametime-lacking loose forward tearaway Nizaam Carr to have fire in their bellies if called to action.

    Hardly helping the situation is that Cilliers has had a less than stellar start to the season since being recruited by the franchise, making little set-piece impact on either the tighthead or loosehead side of the scrum although he is an honest grafter in open play.

    What the questionable bench means is that, although the Stormers would love to be able to give greater rest to core players like captain Jean de Villiers and Andries Bekker, they are basically having to play them into the ground at present.

    In stark contrast, and despite their own catalogue of casualties, the Sharks side announced on Wednesday has a massive edge in terms of clout among the subs.

    All of fast-emerging scrummager Wiehahn Herbst, Craig Burden, Anton Bresler, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Riaan Viljoen and Odwa Ndungane boast heaps of first-class wisdom and the majority of them are also full Springboks or at the very least have boasted brief membership of extended Bok touring squads.

    The visitors will sacrifice absolutely nothing in “grunt” if they opt to throw on the fresh legs of people like fit-again Deysel, Herbst and Bresler during the second half.

    In some ways, you could argue that a Stormers XV will be tasked with resisting a much more all-embracing Sharks 22 at Newlands ...



    15. Joe Pietersen, 14. Damian de Allende, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Jean de Villiers (captain), 11. Gio Aplon, 10. Gary van Aswegen, 9. Dewaldt Duvenage, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 7. Michael Rhodes, 6. Siya Kolisi, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. De Kock Steenkamp, 3. Frans Malherbe, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Steven Kitshoff

    Substitutes: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Pat Cilliers, 18. Gerbrandt Grobler, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Louis Schreuder, 21. Kurt Coleman, 22. Cheslin Kolbe


    15. Francois Steyn, 14. Sean Robinson, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. JP Pietersen, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Keegan Daniel (captain), 7. Ryan Kankowski, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Kyle Cooper, 1. Tendai Mtawarira

    Substitutes: 16. Craig Burden, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Anton Bresler, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Charl McLeod, 21. Riaan Viljoen,  22. Odwa Ndungane

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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