RYAN VREDE writes that there is a heavy weight of expectation on certain Sharks players.
Pat Lambie – Sharks coach John Plumtree has maintained from the early days of Lambie’s senior career that he saw him settling at flyhalf. There has been a purposeful plan with the youngster which has culminated in a season where he will be the incumbent pivot. He has impressed when deployed there in the past, exhibiting a complete skills set. He will primarily offer the Sharks a gainline threat but is also adept at a more pragmatic approach if the match situation and/or opposition demands it. He needs support from his pack and centres (a weak point for the Sharks) to realise his potential, though. Morne Steyn has the inside track on Springboks selection with Heyneke Meyer as coach but Lambie can force reconsideration in this regard with a strong season.
Bismarck du Plessis – Forget his respectful media offerings, John Smit became an annoying presence for Du Plessis in the the latter part of his career, particularly with the Springboks, where selection promises where made to Du Plessis and never honoured. Plumtree was less in awe of Smit than Peter de Villiers was, recognising that his side was significantly less potent without Du Plessis in the No 2 shirt. There is no such selection dilemma for Plumtree in 2012. With Smit departed for Saracens, Du Plessis will get an extended run. He is undoubtedly the type of player galvanised by a challenge and spurred on by a sense of injustice. Whether he responds in the absence of those motivating forces remains to be seen. The Sharks need him to consistently deliver the standard of performance he did in 2011.
JP Pietersen – Pietersen has, in recent years, looked an impostor of the once formidable winger he was when he first emerged. Injuries have stifled his efforts to regain that form but that alone cannot mitigate him. He was a passenger for the duration of the 2011 Super Rugby and Test season, benefiting from a lack of competition in the former and misplaced loyalty in the latter. Now it appears that a positional change is on the cards, with Plumtree expected to persist with his pre-season experiment of Pietersen in midfield. It is too early to make an absolute judgement on Pietersen in the position, but he has acquitted himself well enough to warrant a continuation of this trial in Super Rugby. The move has the potential to rejuvenate a player who needs to feel consistently challenged to produce his best form. If he is deployed as a wing Pietersen must escape the maze of mediocrity he has been trapped in if he hopes to add to his Test cap count. There will be no selection favours from Meyer.
Marius Joubert – Joubert was recruited from Clermont last season in the hope that he would be the solution to the Sharks’ now chronic midfield problems. He disappointed in the Currie Cup, with Plumtree citing poor conditioning as central to his struggles. Having had a full pre-season with the Sharks that problem should be alleviated and Joubert must deliver on the Sharks’ expectations.
Frederic Michalak – The Frenchman is a popular figure in the changeroom but his powers have certainly waned. Michalak has always lacked consistency, dynamic match winning performances interjecting ordinary displays. He’ll be used as bench cover for scrumhalf and flyhalf and must maintain a high standard throughout the tournament, as well as use his vast experience to win matches. The Sharks are paying him a mint, and there needs to be a patent return on that investment.