Hernandez to give Sharks some bite

The Sharks are close to sealing a deal to sign star flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez.

A fortnight ago keo.co.za reported that despite media reports, the Sharks hadn’t signed Hernandez from French giants Stade Français, as his wage requests were deemed to be too high.

Keo.co.za has since reliably learnt that the Argentine has come to a compromise with the Sharks, and is on his way to Durban.

The Sharks were hoping to have him available for Friday’s Currie Cup match against Boland at King’s Park, but he is being held up by issues pertaining to a work permit. If the matter is sorted out this week, Hernandez will start against the Blue Bulls at King’s Park in a fortnight.

Provided there are no further complications, Hernandez, who was central to Argentina’s surge to the 2007 World Cup semi-final and who has been instrumental in Stade’s success in recent years, will fill a massive void left by Ruan Pienaar’s absence due to national duty.

They fielded 19-year-old Guy Cronje in their Currie Cup opener against Western Province on Saturday, and while the youngster is undoubtedly talented, his inexperience, particularly in tight matches, must be considered a liability.

Before the break in the negotiation deadlock the Sharks seemed likely to persist with Cronje for the remainder of the tournament, and would have hoped for an accelerated adaptation to the unique demands of senior professional rugby.

The reality was that there simply are no other options. Monty Dumond hasn’t made a strong impression in the opportunities he has had, neither have any of the other options the Sharks trialled in the Currie Cup in 2008.

With Pienaar and Frans Steyn, the Sharks’ two pivot options, only available for four league-phase matches, the Sharks desperately needed to find an experienced player to start at 10 if they hoped to build a title defence. They seemed to have done that now with the imminent signing of Hernandez.

Hernandez is equally competent at fullback and could edge out veteran Stefan Terblanche there when Pienaar returns from Tri-Nations duty.

There are, however, serious concerns about their depth in other key positions should the incumbents be injured or lose form.

Captain Johann Muller will only return for the away game against Boland on 4 September, after breaking his arm against Western Province on Saturday. Albert van den Berg is expected to replace him for Friday’s match, but who provides lock cover on the wood remains to be seen.

The Sharks also have inexperienced fringe players covering the loose trio, midfield and back three, and injuries to or a loss of form of their incumbents will leave them in a very difficult position.

Encouragingly, reports are that Springbok centre Waylon Murray’s rehabilitation from a knee injury that ruled him out of the Super 14 is going well, and he should be available for selection in two weeks time. The Sharks will probably opt to manage him conservatively by introducing him off the bench.

By Ryan Vrede