Durban - The Sharks' battle with injury and just to be able to find enough players in each position to make up a full squad is starting to become of a more primary concern than their continued struggle to remain in touch with the conference leaders in Super Rugby.
According to the supersport website, the injury that has forced Frans Steyn out of the rest of the Super Rugby season is bad news both for the Sharks and for South African rugby supporters generally.
Although Steyn has struggled with form as a result of poor conditioning this season, he was starting to look the part again and had shed a lot of weight before he was forced to leave the field against the Highlanders this past weekend.
Steyn was in excruciating pain after receiving a blow to the left leg in his team’s 25-22 defeat at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, and it was initially thought he had suffered a fracture. However X-rays showed no break, and Steyn was forced to undergo emergency surgery in the early hours of Sunday morning as doctors diagnosed compartment syndrome, which is heavy pressure build-up in a limb.
With Marius Joubert having been injured in a Vodacom Cup game this weekend, Paul Jordaan out for the season and Tim Whitehead still some way from playing again, Steyn’s absence from the remainder of the tour has left John Plumtree with no other centre options. He has decided against calling for someone (who?) from home, and is likely to field JP Pietersen at outside centre against the Reds in Brisbane on Friday.
The Sharks are now in a must-win situation if they want to remain competitive in the conference. If they lose to the Reds they will be 11 or 12 points behind the Bulls, and probably a similar number behind the Cheetahs. So it’s not a comfortable situation for Plumtree, who has had to call Sharks XV hooker Monde Hadebe to Australia as Craig Burden is also on his way home after pinching a nerve in his neck.
The good news is that Willem Alberts is probably on his way to Australia as one of the replacements as he has proved his fitness after a long injury lay-off. But the Sharks’ shortfall at the moment is arguably more critical in other positions. At least Alberts will bring the big ball carrying presence that they require for their momentum game to work. But it was noticeable that Plumtree forsook that option in his most recent selection when he left Jean Deysel on the bench against the Highlanders.
From a Bok viewpoint the return to the field of Alberts comes at a good time, but national coach Heyneke Meyer will be holding thumbs he does go and join the list of top Sharks players who’ve been injured in Super Rugby. Of most concern though to him will be the probably absence of Steyn from consideration until the second half of the Rugby Championship.