DURBAN – With the potential ambush of the Sunwolves having been emphatically dealt with last week in Singapore, the Sharks tomorrow tackle the sterner challenge of the Blues at Kings Park.
It is a second round Super Rugby match that will give us a clearer view of just how good the Sharks are in 2019 as they look to kick on from their Currie Cup triumph late last year.
If we are to be honest, the Sunwolves are a ragtag collection of former wannabees from the likes of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, plus the Pacific Islands, and the Sharks to their credit dispatched these mercenaries for a mighty six.
Also last weekend, the Blues would have beaten the Crusaders had their kicker not fluffed his lines towards the end of the game, and the bottom line is that the Sharks know that this Blues team is far removed from the shambles of a side that leaked 63 points to the Sharks at Eden Park last year.
It is also the Sharks’ first home game of the year, and one that they cannot afford to lose. Coach Robert du Preez conceded as much.
It is massive that we win this first game. You have to win all your home games if you want to be in contention for the playoffs, so this first one is huge for us,” Du Preez said.
To the coach’s credit, he has named an unchanged starting XV for the match, choosing to retain youngster Aphelele Fassi at fullback despite the return from injury of Curwin Bosch.
“Curwin is good to go after a shoulder injury, but there must be reward for those who have done well,” Du Preez said. “Continuity is the right way to go for the group of guys that produced last. So we have just made two changes to the bench, with Curwin back (for Rhyno Smith) and Thomas du Toit (also over injury ) for Khutha Mchunu.”
On the subject of continuity, Du Preez pointed out that as the season unfolds, he will rotate players more so than he did last year.
“We did not always get rotation right last year but I feel it is going to be key to our success in this competition, in that we have quality depth,” he said.
Further to the subject of rotation, Du Preez said that Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus had been in touch regarding the interests of the Springboks in this World Cup year.
“Rassie has spoken to me about playing certain players and resting others but it is early days in Super Rugby and that issue will be more relevant towards the middle of the competition,” Du Preez said.
For now, there can be no focus for the Sharks other than what is in front of them a new-look Blues team under the guidance of former Crusaders fullback Leon MacDonald who has taken over from another former All Black, the sacked Tana Umaga.
“They have some serious quality, the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Akira Ioane They are a formidable side, you would have seen how well they played against the Crusaders last week,” Du Preez said.
“But we can’t worry too much about them we have to do what we have to do. It is going to be hot and humid, the conditions are going to be difficult so hopefully that works for us because we are used to it.”
The Sharks side:
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Hyron Andrews, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van Merwe, Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Phendulani Buthelezi, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Curwin Bosch.
The Blues side:
15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Tanielu Tele’a.