Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - He may be an out-of-form player, but at least Frans Steyn
is an out-of-form versatile player.
That is the thought beleaguered Sharks coach John Plumtree may be consoling himself with as he goes about the precarious task of assembling a group of 22 able bodies to tackle Super Rugby champions the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday (09:35 SA time).
Nobody needs reminding that the hefty Springbok can play just about anywhere in a backline - except scrumhalf - if necessary, and the crisis-torn Sharks could just be forced to continue his current yo-yo status in positional terms by asking him to occupy the outside centre channel at Waikato Stadium.
Their brains trust would not have known whether to laugh or cry when, during a jetlag-combating touch rugby run-around at their early training base in Sydney, incumbent Paul Jordaan tore anterior cruciate ligaments
... yes, he is a goner for months.
Last Saturday, after all, the former IRB Junior World Championship star was nearly responsible for one of the most miraculous, late-show virtuoso tries of Super Rugby history when he snaked his way agonisingly close to the Cheetahs’ soggy try-line to nearly turn the contest on its head.
But the move broke down and then the visitors instead got a breakout try of their own to put the seal on a grimly-fought 12-6 triumph which saw the Sharks tumble two places on the SA conference table to third after the weekend’s action.
A little scarily for the now Australasian-touring outfit, their tally of match-fit backline players suddenly dwindled in a jiffy to 10, meaning that if they go for the standard four-three split between forwards and backs on the bench against the Chiefs, every single one of them will be in the 22 for Saturday.
They do have Springbok right wing stalwart JP Pietersen
in their midst as well, and they are also “checking on Lwazi Mvovo
’s (injury rehabilitation) status” back home, but the former is apparently a non-starter until the Highlanders clash in week two of the trip - he might have provided a temporary solution at No 13 where he can be very effective.
So reading between the lines, it may come down to a choice between the experience of Steyn and the raw promise of short-term Blue Bulls recruit Piet Lindeque for outside centre in Hamilton, if Plumtree is intending to keep Meyer Bosman
at No 12.
Lindeque would start totally “cold” in terms of knowledge of the Sharks philosophy at this level, although the 22-year-old shone alongside Handre Pollard in midfield when Tukkies trounced Maties in the recent Varsity Cup final.
He is uncapped at either Currie Cup or Super Rugby level.
Among his many placements as a Bok, Steyn had a brief, largely inconclusive stint at No 13 during the Peter de Villiers coaching tenure.
He is a reassuringly large specimen, whether at 12 or 13, but not exactly renowned for pace out of the blocks in the outside channel - especially considering ongoing worries around his conditioning this year.
But he may just have to be the hastily-installed solution for the time being, unless Plumtree and company plan to be really creative with the limited general backline ingredients they’ve got or scramble a better option from back home onto an eleventh-hour flight.
Whatever team they eventually name, from increasingly threadbare stocks, the Sharks side will almost certainly look rather more vulnerable even than the XV which began last year’s final at the same venue - and on that occasion they were predictably whipped 37-6, albeit after an extraordinary sequence of long-haul playoffs travelling.
Considering the extent of their absenteeism right now, it is possible that the run-on team on Saturday will sport only four names - Pat Lambie, Marcell Coetzee
, captain Keegan Daniel
and Jannie du Plessis - who also saw service from the start in the 2012 showpiece fixture.
Whatever its eventual composition, for the second time on the trot at Waikato Stadium the Sharks will take to the field - albeit for rather different reasons this time - having to bite the bullet very, very hard.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing