Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
That they were top of the overall table when Super Rugby 2020 was suspended - quite possibly without return - was a gladdening development in itself for once long-suffering Sharks supporters.
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Perhaps slightly overlooked in the relative euphoria, however, has been just how youthful the core of the sprightly resources at Kings Park are.
Want to know the average age of the starting XV from their last completed match, the deserved 24-14 home triumph over closest South African rivals the Stormers?
That figure is a striking 24 and a half.
It is a very good reason to suspect that, even if the coronavirus pandemic cruelly puts paid to the competition this season, the Durban-based franchise should be at the forefront again - possibly to a more compelling extent, too - next year.
As things stand, the only confirmed, departing player from the team that began the derby recently will be robust midfielder Andre Esterhuizen, who signed a deal of undisclosed duration with English club Harlequins for the 2020/21 season at very least.
The just-turned 26-year-old Springbok has been an important, physical “balancer” in an otherwise nippy, twinkle-toed Sharks back division, and their proactive new CEO Eduard Coetzee is likely to explore the market as vigorously as possible for a suitable replacement in 2021.
Still, if someone like current squad member Jeremy Ward - not nearly Esterhuizen’s match in build but prepared to be direct and tough-tackling - were to take over the No 12 jersey, he would bring down the Sharks’ average age even further as he is currently only 24.
In contrast to every other SA franchise in Super Rugby, the Sharks XV that ran out against the Stormers on March 14 contained not one player aged in the 30-or-more category.
The oldest starter that day was once Newlands-based scrumhalf Louis Schreuder (29) – he clicks over to 30 later this month.
Bear in mind, however, that Schreuder remains under notably healthy competition in his key berth from the prodigiously talented but raw Sanele Nohamba, many years his junior at 21 but tipped by some pundits already as a Springbok not too long from now.
Most of the other SA teams contain at least one “grand master” in their ranks this season: think Bulls with Juandre Kruger (34) and Josh Strauss (33), Lions with Jannie du Plessis (37) and Willem Alberts (35) and Stormers with Jamie Roberts (33).
But the Sharks squad is unmistakably future-geared in its age make-up, suggesting that they should remain - if not too bedevilled by defections to northern climes - a title-hunting prospect for at very least the next two or three years of Super Rugby as they seek that hitherto elusive first title.
Admittedly two of their front-rankers, barrelling utility prop Thomas du Toit and on-the-rise hooker Kerron van Vuuren, each have 25th birthdays in May, but that won’t change the fact that their pack remains especially youthful.
Their oldest forward, almost unbelievably, is the 26-year-old sensation of 2020, rangy eighth-man Sikhumbuzo Notshe who has finally been living up to his known potential as an athlete extraordinaire since his switch up the coast from Cape Town.
The Sharks didn’t exactly opt for gnarly old souls in their broader recruitments of recent times, considering that someone like former Cheetahs loosehead prop favourite Ox Nche is 24 and tearaway open-sider James Venter (ex-Lions, though schooled at Glenwood High) currently 23.
Here are the current ages of the entire Sharks XV who began the Stormers match:
Aphelele Fassi 22, S’bu Nkosi 24, Lukhanyo Am (capt) 26, Andre Esterhuizen 26, Makazole Mapimpi 29, Curwin Bosch 22, Louis Schreuder 29, Sikhumbuzo Notshe 26, Tyler Paul 25, James Venter 23, Hyron Andrews 24, Ruben van Heerden 22, Thomas du Toit 24, Kerron van Vuuren 24, Ox Nche 24.
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