Durban - There has rightly been much focus on the
role that Curwin Bosch’s switch back to flyhalf has played in making the Sharks more competitive, but it would be wrong to overlook the
role that some key big men have played in transforming the pack.
du Preez is a special player that Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus really
shouldn’t overlook when he selects his World Cup squad later this year,
and Philip van der Walt adds experience that was previously lacking.
Both of those players were absent through injury for the first part of
the season and are now back in the mix and driving the Sharks forward.
perhaps the most noticeable change to the Sharks over the past few
weeks has been the second row, where Ruan Botha, last year’s captain,
has been nothing short of outstanding and appears to be vindicating his
former Western Province Vodacom Cup coach John Dobson’s 2013 claim that
he will become a Springbok.
Okay, so lock is a position where
South Africa is well served, and if Lood de Jager recovers from his
injuries he will add further to the enviable options the country has at
No 5. Franco Mostert, now playing overseas, will doubtless still be in
the mix, and let’s not forget that Pieter-Steph du Toit plays there too
when he’s not wearing the No 7 signifying blindside flank.
Botha is good enough to suggest that were he a citizen of any other
country, he would have played international rugby by now.
Du Toit’s move to the Cape at the start of 2016 that prompted Botha to
pack his bags and head to Durban at a time when he was fast developing
into the perfect partner for Springbok Eben Etzebeth in the Stormers
Would Botha have continued as first choice Western
Province and Stormers No 5 had Du Toit announced an intention when he
arrived of shifting to loose-forward? Perhaps, but then you must also
remember WP have JD Schickerling on their books. He is a highly regarded
player who toured with the Boks late last year and could be the go-to
man for the Boks in the next World Cup cycle if he can overcome the
injury bogey that keeps him from picking up a proper head of steam.
the case, the Stormers’ loss is proving to be the Sharks’ gain, with
Botha turning in a big-hearted and impressive effort in an ultimately
vain cause against the Chiefs in Hamilton at the weekend. Although the
Sharks lost, the two teams who played at home were no great shakes so
the best Sharks player on the day (just ahead of Bosch in the final
analysis) is our Player of the Week.
Botha first started making
his presence felt when he was part of the South African under-20 team
that won the Junior Word Championship in Cape Town in 2012, but he was
blooded in Super Rugby before that by the Lions coach at the time, John
Mitchell. The product of Jeugland Hoerskool was still just 20 when he
made his Super Rugby debut for the Lions against the Chiefs in Pukekohe.
Botha brings massive physicality to the Sharks’ second row - at
2.04 metres and 124 kilograms he is what can be described as a rugby
behemoth - and it is no coincidence that now that he is back in tow we
are also seeing the best being brought out of his lock partners. Ruben
van Heerden was good against the Crusaders, but Hyron Andrews was even
better in this last match.
Playing Andrews in the No 4 jersey when
Botha is in the No 5 seems a bit incongruous (they’re in the Bakkies
Botha/Victor Matfield combination but with the reverse numbering), but
Andrews is a mobile player with a high work-rate who is possibly freed
more to play that role when Botha’s staunchness is present. It was
fitting that both locks scored the only two tries the Sharks scored in
Botha played a big role in getting the Sharks some
go-forward in the later stages of the first half and into the third
quarter after a bit of a lacklustre start. The television stats
reflected afterwards that he made nine carries, all of them aggressive
and impactful, and an impressive, for a lock, 16 tackles in Hamilton.
it was when the Sharks played against his former Stormers teammates
that Botha sustained the injury that kept him from the playing field
until the start of the Australasian tour. It is ironic for more than
just the reason that he used to play for the Cape team - they were also
the first side to front the Sharks physically after the Sharks had made
an impressive start to the competition.
There is potentially a
massive mini-final looming in the Sharks’ future on the last day of the
league season when they visit Cape Town to play against a Stormers team
that, when at full strength, features the bulk of the Bok pack. If the
Sharks are still in with a sniff of conference success at that point
they will want Botha to be present as he holds the key to their ability
to be able to front the Stormers physically in the same way as the
Stormers fronted them in Durban in March.
Botha played for the
South Africa A team in 2017 and may have gone further than that by now
were it not for the unwanted reputation for over-robustness that has
bugged him since he was red carded playing for the national second
string team against France A at Orlando Stadium. He was sent off for
charging dangerously into a ruck, and was suspended again following a
red card for dangerous play against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last
Botha, who plays for Kubota Spears in Japan in the summer
months, will be doing his team and possibly his own national aspirations
a lot of good if he can pocket that tendency and rather continue to
draw off the controlled aggression that proved such a thorn to the
Chiefs at the weekend.
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