Beware the wounded Lion

Sharks coach Dick Muir expects the Lions to come out firing for their Currie Cup match at King’s Park on Friday night.

While the Sharks are full of confidence after finishing fifth in the Super 14, the Lions – in the guise of the Cats – finished last in what was a nightmare season. However, Muir is not underestimating the Jo’burg side.

“We are expecting a massive onslaught from the Lions,” he told the Sharks website. “They have a new coach, are pretty wounded from their Super 14 campaign, so they want to prove a point. It will be a very interesting game and I imagine that there will be some nice, open rugby played.”

Muir says he has assembled “a pretty balanced side”.

One new name in the side is that of fullback Carl Bezuidenhout who has been plucked from obscurity. “He’s a youngster,” admitted Muir, “but he played well in the trials, and he is something of an unknown factor. He has a lot of ball in him, and I think he will be good for us.”

“We are also expecting big things from Jody Jenneker, and with Deon [Carstens] and BJ [Botha] out, it creates an opportunity for a youngster like JC Strauss, so he needs to grasp his opportunities. Ryan Kankowski is another exciting talent that has come into our system.”

The Sharks boast the same loose-forward trio in this opening match as that which performed so well for most of the Super 14, although Muir admits that, “I believe there is room for improvement, and the guys need to step up. They are up against a good loose trio so they will be tested on Friday.”

Youngsters taking their opportunities put pressure on incumbents. Keegan Daniel proved it in the Super 14, as did Brad Barritt, and previously, Ruan Pienaar and countless others.

However, it is just as important to have the experienced players there to act in a mentoring role explains Muir. “It is good to have a guy like AJ who is blooding someone like Kankowski, or Danie Saayman working with JC Strauss, and with Bezuidenhout, you have a guy like Brett Hennessey who has the experience.”

Commenting on the halfback pairing of Butch James and Ruan Pienaar, he said that, “both can create a bit of havoc. Ruan has been away with the Boks and hasn’t trained much with us, but he knows our structures and systems, so he will fit in easily.”

The expectations on the Sharks are high after the Super 14, but the coach warns that it is a new competition, and no-one should take success for granted.

“I think a team needs to be able to walk before it runs, so we must treat each campaign as it goes. With the number of changes in the side, we have lost a little bit of momentum that we had managed to generate in the Super 14, so we need to start fresh again.”