DURBAN – To his credit, Sharks coach Robert du Preez has said this year is the one that would see him abandoning rigid selection in favour of rotational rejuvenation, and he has done just that for tomorrow’s Super Rugby visit to the Bulls.
You would have thought the Sharks would retreat into the lager this week in terms of selection following the loss to the Stormers, but Du Preez has made some brave selections.
In short, he has backed his broader squad, something that did not happen last year or the year before that.
Well done to the coach for backing youngster Gideon Koegelenberg at lock (with the experienced and ultra-combative Ruan Botha dropping out of the match 23); for giving the ever-promising Jeremy Ward a shot at 12 (Springbok Andre Esterhuizen drops to the bench); for rewarding Rhyno Smith for his commendable performance at fullback against the Stormers when he came on early in the game for the injured Aphelele Fassi; and for bringing in star Sharks Under 19 hooker Fez Mbatha to back up Akker van der Merwe.
“I have said from the word go that 2019 would see us expose the bigger squad and I think this weekend is the right time to do it,” Du Preez said. “All the changes are because of niggles or the need to give players opportunities.
At fullback, Rhyno Smith continues where he left off against the Stormers after replacing the concussed Fassi.
Du Preez said Fassi was recovering well from that knock but the Sharks did not want to risk him this weekend.
Du Preez said that the selection of Ward at inside centre was equally about the bruising Esterhuizen getting a fourth-round break as it was about rewarding Ward, the former SA Under 20 captain, for his performances off the bench.
In another change in the forwards, Wian Vosloo starts at openside flank for the injured Tyler Paul.
There would have been a temptation for Du Preez to give a start to last year’s Sharks Under 19 captain, Phepsi Buthelezi, who impressively replaced Paul for 70 minutes against the Stormers, but the coach has gone for the powerful Vosloo, the 115kg 24-year-old from Klerksdorp who was impressive in the Currie Cup last year. Buthelezi, who is primarily a No 8, continues as loose forward cover.
Du Preez has also given an opportunity to another youngster who looked lively in the Currie Cup, scrumhalf Grant Williams, with Cameron Wright dropping out of the squad.
Another player in line for a Super Rugby debut is Ruben van Heerden, the former SA Under 20 and Bulls lock who joined the Sharks last year.
“Koegies (Koegelenberg) is a guy that thrives on the physical side of the game and is a hard worker so I am not concerned about him coming in (for Botha), and Vossie (Vosloo) is the right guy to take to Loftus for the kind of game we are expecting.
“The Bulls have a very good team, they dismantled the Lions, and this is going to be a very physical SA derby at Loftus,” Du Preez continued.