Sharks coach John Plumtree is banking on his frontline locks to deliver in the absence of experienced deputies.
With an extended Super Rugby campaign, squad depth is going to be a decisive factor in the success of any franchise. The Bulls have undoubtedly been hardest hit in this regard, with 13 players having left the franchise – among those eight recent or former Springboks.
However, the Sharks haven’t been unaffected in this regard, with veteran hooker John Smit opting to end his career at Saracens and utility back Stefan Terblanche doing the same with Ulster.
The Durban franchise’s biggest losses, in the context of the squad, have, however, come in the second row department. Coach John Plumtree pointed to this as their major concern ahead of a season where they hope to end their Super Rugby title drought.
‘Lock could be a problem,’Plumtree said. ‘We have lost both our starting locks from the end of last season, Gerhard Mostert [Stade Francais] and Steven Sykes [Leinster], and they are difficult to replace. The pressure is going to be on Ross Skeate and Alistair Hargreaves to deliver.”
The Sharks have the option of using Jean Deysel in the second row, given that the back row bruiser is unlikely to start ahead of Willem Alberts or Ryan Kankowski.
Plumtree also pointed to his midfield as a focal point, conceding that those granted opportunities there in 2011 fell short of expectations.
‘We had a problem at centre in 2011 but we are expecting a big improvement from Meyer Bosman this season now that he is settled. He started to make big strides towards the end of last season and we are excited about what he offers us. We have lost Stefan Terblanche but have gained Marius Joubert and Tim Whitehead.
‘We have been working hard on the conditioning of Frederic Michalak and Marius Joubert, but particularly Marius. It doesn’t appear the French clubs place much importance on the conditioning process, and Marius arrived here in 2011 [from Clermont] a bit short of where he needed to be from a conditioning point of view. I’m sure that now that we’ve put him through a conditioning programme he will be ready to make a big contribution. I’m expecting us to have much more stability in the midfield this year.’
Plumtree has already indicated that Pat Lambie will be used predominantly as a flyhalf, with Michalak providing pivot and scrumhalf [where he started his career] cover. With the arrival of Riaan Viljoen from the Cheetahs they are well stocked at fullback, allowing the 21-year-old Lambie an extended run in the position widely regarded to be his best.
By Ryan Vrede