Blues captain Keven Mealamu says the Sharks are a far more formidable team when both Bismarck du Plessis and John Smit are in the run-on side.
It is yet unclear whether Sharks coach John Plumtree will opt to start the Springbok captain Smit and his Test team-mate Du Plessis in the same side for Saturday’s match in Auckland. Prior to the start of the season Plumtree said Smit would be used primarily as a tighthead prop (although he added he might still be required at hooker), which was in line with the thinking of Springbok coach Peter de Villiers.
However, Du Plessis missed the pre-season with a sternum injury sustained on the Springboks’ year end tour and was eased back into the fold, with Smit starting the first two matches of the tournament at his preferred position of hooker and Deon Cartsens at tighthead prop. On Saturday Smit was benched against the Chiefs, then came on as a late replacement for Jannie du Plessis at tighthead prop.
However, Plumtree has the option of starting both Bismarck Du Plessis and Smit against the Blues, thereby retaining the intensity and dynamism of the former and the skill and experience of the latter.
All Blacks hooker Mealamu made no secret of the fact that he hoped the coach would opt for either one of the two as opposed to unleashing them both in Auckland on Saturday.
“I know there has been a lot of debate about that situation, but I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want two players of that calibre in the same starting line-up, especially since John seems to be a pretty competent tighthead,” he told keo.co.za.
“Bismarck gives you the go-forward you’re looking for and is as good a lineout thrower and scrummager as they come, and because John has played hooker for most of his career he gives you a better range of skills than you’d usually get out of a tighthead.
“It’s a personal view that they should play in the same team. If we had that sort of problem we’d be smiling.”
Both the Blues and Sharks built their victories on the weekend around fairly rigid structure and Mealamu predicted that the Sharks wouldn’t stray too far from the formula that worked for them in Hamilton.
“I was very impressed with the Sharks against the Chiefs, particularly their defence,” he said. “The Stormers were pretty expansive in their approach but I expect the Sharks to keep it a lot tighter than what they (the Stormers) did.
“Defence is such an important part being successful in the competition because there is far more unstructured play now than there was before the ELVs. The way they defended against the Chiefs was unbelievable and made a statement to us that we’ll have to be pretty good to break them down.”
The Sharks were banking on having a full strength squad to select from, but on Sunday received the devastating news that powerful flanker Jean Deysel has sustained a serious knee injury. He has been forced to return home and is likely to be sidelined until the latter part of the tournament. Vodacom Cup flanker Justin Downey has been called up to provide some depth at blindside.
“Losing anyone on tour is heart-breaking – certainly for them, but also the rest of the team – especially someone like a Jean Deysel,” said assistant coach Grant Bashford.
Keegan Daniel will start at blindside flank with Skholiwe Ndlovu coming onto the bench.
By Ryan Vrede