JJ van der Mescht’s move to blindside flank was the chief talking point of the Sharks team announcement on Wednesday for their Currie Cup match against the Pumas in Durban on Friday night, with the Sharks also going into battle with a retreaded hooker at openside flank in Dylan Richardson.
What coach Sean Everitt described as an “experiment” has largely been forced on the Sharks though due to the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak in the squad, with both Phendulani Buthelezi and Henco Venter unavailable.
Some good news though is that Springbok Sikhumbuzo Notshe is now out of quarantine and will return to action from the bench, with hardman Thembelani Bholi the starting eighthman.
“We’ve had a few problems the last couple of weeks and we’ve had to tweak our pack, giving us an opportunity to look at JJ on the side of the scrum,” Everitt said on Wednesday.
“He has a good skill set and enough pace to fulfil the blindside role. It’s an experiment and we still look at JJ as a lock, but he’s certainly an option at seven. Next year playing in the Pro16, games are going to be a lot tighter and we’ll need to rely more on our set-piece and mauls, so if it works well on Friday night then great.
“Dylan has done well for us, his general all-round play has been outstanding. We still see him long-term as a hooker, but he is comfortable on the side of the scrum as well and he gets the chance to gain more experience there now at senior level. We’re fortunate to have three very good hookers and Dan Jooste has only made two starts but he rotates now with Kerron van Vuuren.”
While some critics have sought to disparage the Sharks’ efforts at the scrums and breakdowns – two areas of strength for the Pumas – the return of Thomas du Toit at tighthead should make a big difference to the set-piece and Everitt said the Sharks are always going to turn over some ball because of the expansive way in which they play.
“It’s really good to have Thomas back, we have struggled in the set-pieces when he’s not there, so it’s good to have a Springbok back,” he said.
“We’re looking to improve our set-piece and the breakdown, our focus is on that. But if you look at where we give away penalties or turn over the ball, it’s all over the field. And that’s the way it’s going to be if you play ball-in-hand rugby. When we do lose possession, it’s all about how quickly we react to the player who has turned it over,” Everitt said.
Sharks: Manie Libbok, Yaw Penxe, Jeremy Ward (capt), Marius Louw, Madosh Tambwe, Curwin Bosch, Sanele Nohamba, Thembelani Bholi, JJ van der Mescht, Dylan Richardson, Hyron Andrews, Ruben van Heerden, Thomas du Toit, Kerron van Vuuren, Ox Nche. Bench: Daniel Jooste, Khwezi Mona, Hanro Jacobs, Zain Davids, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Cameron Wright, Werner Kok, Sbu Nkosi.