Gavin Rich - SuperSport.com
Durban - Sharks coach Robert du Preez has come up with what can be described as a surprise and perhaps what in some areas could be considered an odd selection for Saturday’s crucial Super Rugby clash with the Bulls at Loftus.
The coach has made five changes, including a positional switch, to his starting team, while there are also five changes to the bench for the trip to Pretoria. Du Preez has long hinted that he will be rotating, and he argued at a press conference at King's Park on Thursday that this is a good time to do it. However, some of his choices are surprising given the venue and the opposition they will face this week.
After training Curwin Bosch in what looked like the probable starting team on Tuesday, Du Preez has opted instead for Rhyno Smith at fullback. While the Bosch selection would have made sense because of his long kicking field kicking boot, which could have helped negate the Bulls’ strong kicking game, Smith’s selection begs questions about the Sharks’ chances of improving in one of the areas of weakness for them last week against the Stormers.
They struggled to deal with the Stormers’ kicking game and Smith will face a tall order at Loftus in dealing with contestable kicks. However, instead of rotating wing Sbu Nkosi, which was hinted at earlier in the week, the Sharks coach has retained the Bok in the No 14 jersey, and with Makazole Mapimpi continuing on the left it means the Sharks will start at Loftus with the back three that finished the game against the Stormers. According to what Du Preez said in explaining his selections, that fact probably influenced his choice.
"Fullback Aphelele Fassi took a knock against the head last week. He is alright and is on track with his recovery, but we just didn’t want to risk him. We felt Rhyno did well as a replacement last week so we are giving him a chance to start, particularly as Curwin is himself just coming back from injury," said Du Preez.
The other selection that could be considered strange is the one at lock. It was understood earlier in the week that Ruan Botha, the most experienced Sharks lock and one of the form tight forwards in the Durban team, was injured. However, at the Thursday morning team announcement press conference, Du Preez explained his absence from the team for Loftus by saying the former captain was being rested. Why that should raise eyebrows is because it means two inexperienced players in Gideon Koegelenberg and Hyron Andrews will be teaming up in the second row.
Du Preez said though that it was a like for like swop.
“Koegies thrives on the physicality side of the game so I am not really concerned about that. He was really fantastic in the pre-season,” explained the coach.
There is a rotational change at inside centre, where Jeremy Ward moves to the starting team and Springbok centre Andre Esterhuizen moves into Ward’s place on the bench. There is also what could be considered a tactical change and shift of position in the second row.
Instead of making a straight swop of a blindside flank for blindside flank in the injury enforced absence of Tyler Paul, Du Preez has recalled Wian Vosloo to the No 6 jersey and moved Jacques Vermeulen to No 7. That could be a smart move at Loftus as Vosloo is a genuine opensider and such a player will come in useful against the Bulls, who are adept at breakdown scavenging.
“I said from the word go that we would expose the wider squad during the course of the season and it seemed like the right time to do it this weekend,” said Du Preez.
“All the changes that have been made have been because of niggles or they are rotational changes. Andre (Esterhuizen) is just getting a bit of a break by starting this game from the bench, which at the same time rewards Jeremy Ward for the hard work he has put in this season. Wian is the type of player we will need at Loftus, he is a tough guy, and he is in for Tyler, who will be out for four to six weeks.”
The match will be skipper Louis Schreuder’s 100th appearance in a Super Rugby match. His caps have been spread between the Stormers,the Southern Kings and the Sharks.
“It is an exciting week for me, but I haven’t given much thought to the personal achievement as it is not about me, I will take a back seat to the team needs this weekend,” said Schreuder.
Schreuder added that no big emotional motivational speeches will be required from him this weekend.
“Motivation shouldn’t be a problem, all the players will be motivated. If you can’t motivate yourself for a game like this, particularly after last week’s loss to the Stormers, then you are in the wrong profession,” said the captain.
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handre Pollard (captain), 9 Ivan van Zyl 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Tim Agaba, 6 Jannes Kirsten, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Hanro Liebenberg, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Substitutes: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw
15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13. Lukhanyo Am, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10.Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Fezokhule ‘Fez’ Mbatha, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Phepsi Buthelezi, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Andre Esterhuizen, 23 Curwin Bosch
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