The Sharks believe Frans Steyn will improve considerably at flyhalf over the next couple of weeks.
When Ruan Pienaar sustained a serious medial ligament injury against the Reds in their penultimate tour match, Steyn was required to fill the void. He hadn’t played in that position regularly since 2006 and there was concern that the reduced time and space he would have would nullify his strengths.
However, he performed well against the Force in Perth on Saturday, and while it may not have been a flawless performance, the 22-year-old showed enough to stir the belief of the coaching staff that Pienaar’s loss may not be the monumental disaster it first seemed.
‘We thought he went really well. We were very pleased with Frans’s performance,’ Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford told keo.co.za.
‘When you take into account that he hasn’t played there consistently in years and that he was paired with a new inside centre [Riaan Swanepoel], to come into a high pressure match against a good side like the Force, he was impressive.
‘With Ruan out he’ll get a bit of a run at flyhalf and I’m confident that he will improve the more comfortable he gets in the position.’
Bashford was unable to put a time frame on how long Pienaar would be sidelined for, but did say: ‘It’s still a while before he’ll be back.’
The Sharks’ worries are compounded by the fact that Waylon Murray is taking considerably longer than expected to recover from a knee injury sustained in pre-season. The Springbok centre will be evaluated again this week but is unlikely to be considered for selection for this weekend’s match against the Brumbies.
Turning his attention to that clash, Bashford said he expected a modified approach from the Canberra franchise.
‘Traditionally they have been very structured but from what I’ve seen that hasn’t been the case this year,’ he said when asked if he saw discernible differences to their approach under new coach Andy Friend.
A fortnight ago the Reds circumvented their inferiority in the forwards by attacking the Sharks in the wider channels. The approach gained them a 25-13 victory.
Asked whether he thought the Brumbies would attempt to replicate that approach Bashford said: ‘I think they will.
‘But from our point of view we let ourselves down defensively against the Reds, missing 43 tackles. So it wasn’t a case of being comprehensively outplayed. We allowed them to offload in contact and that killed us. On another day we’re smashing them in contact and the scoreline looks very different.
‘I think we improved significantly against the Force. We were quick off the line in defence and dominant at the tackle point. If the Brumbies look to attack in the wide channels we’ll have to be sharp again because they are a very good side, capable of punishing your errors.’
By Ryan Vrede