Sharks give youngsters a chance

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In some ways, it quite aptly sums up what has been a rather strange season for the Sharks so far, with the team facing one challenge after another.

The side selected for the encounter looks almost unrecognisable from the one that faced the Lions in the second week of the competition, with just seven of the same players featuring in the starting line-up this time around.

Since then, Bismarck du Plessis, Jean Deysel and Frans Steyn have been suspended, while Pieter-Steph du Toit, JP Pietersen and Pat Lambie are now unavailable as the result of injuries, and this week Jannie du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira have been rested.

There has also been some concern over Ryan Kankowski this week as the result of a knee problem, and should he be ruled out, either Etienne Oosthuizen or Willem Alberts would likely be elevated to the starting line-up.

The Sharks have also had to turn to their fourth captain in as many weeks, with veteran lock Wentzel taking over the leadership reins.

However, in the absence of the Sharks’ regular leaders and several senior Springboks, Director of Rugby Gary Gold said there was a massive opportunity for other players to step into the breach. “We have a lot of strength and depth, we have Marco, Cobus (Reinach) and Fred (Zeilinga) has played a lot of rugby for the Sharks. Odwa (Ndungane) and Lwazi (Mvovo) are experienced, so is Marcell Coetzee.

“This is a side not too dissimilar to the Lions really, there are not a lot of international superstars. But the guys have trained really well this week and worked incredibly hard for each other, and so let’s hope it really gels for them.

“We’ve been unbelievably impressed by how they’ve reacted to last weekend. They’re obviously very disappointed, very hurt, but particularly motivated to fix things now.”

Although the Sharks managed to scrap their way to three successive wins before last Saturday, all that has been forgotten in the aftermath of their hammering at the hands of the Crusaders.

It’s brought the Durban side to a crossroads in their season as they now lie seventh on the overall log, with tomorrow’s encounter set to be followed by another challenging clash against the Bulls, which will precede their four-week tour to Australasia.

So there is understandably a feeling that the Sharks’ teetering campaign simply has to now be set back on track.

“There are still many games to play, a number of players still to come back and it’s still a tightly fought situation, especially in the South African Conference,” Gold commented.

“So although I don’t see the sense in viewing this as a must win game, from our point of view, we want to go out and right the wrongs of last weekend. The pressure we put upon ourselves should far exceed whatever is out there.”

And while the Sharks have struggled to find any semblance of form in recent weeks, the Lions by contrast have been playing some of their best rugby, with the confidence garnered from a successful overseas tour having helped carry them to a thrilling victory over the Bulls last Saturday.

“We have a huge amount of respect for the Lions,” Gold said.

“We know how competitive they are. They’re on a good run at the moment, and with a few games still to come at home, they’ll fancy their chances to keep that going.

“The Lions are a very close-knit team, they play a good brand of rugby, they’re very well coached, and they will ask a lot of questions of us.”

Gold has made several alterations to the team for tomorrow, with a couple of the unenforced changes notably seeing Ndungane shift to fullback and youngster Franco Marais coming in at hooker. “We’re not panicking at all, I have lots of confidence in this group of players,” Gold emphasised.

“The beauty of sport is that one man’s misfortune can be another’s opportunity. It’s going to be a really exciting test of character to see how they take their chances.” - The Star

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