The return of tighthead prop Thomas du Toit to the Sharks line-up and the absence of loosehead Steven Kitshoff for Western Province will be an obvious shift in the fortunes of the two teams for the Currie Cup semifinal at Newlands on Saturday.
However, Sharks coach Sean Everitt said on Thursday that it is what happens after the set-pieces that is of more importance than the scrum or lineout itself.
Everitt was able to choose both his Springbok props in Du Toit and Ox Nche on Thursday, while Kitshoff, South Africa’s number one loosehead and one of the world’s best in that position, was ruled out of the semifinal due to Covid-19 protocols.
“Even if you get set-piece dominance, what happens next is the important thing,” Everitt said.
“After a dominant scrum or lineout is does make getting the gainline advantage easier, but the set-pieces are just a platform to play from. There are a lot of other aspects that have to take place to get points on the board. But it will be good to have Thomas back after he was out for quite a while with Covid problems and injury before that.
“The set-piece battle is about the unit though and although Kitshoff is one of the best and exceptionally fit, Ali Vermaak is a good player as well and Western Province still have Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, JD Schickerling and Salmaan Moerat so it is a formidable tight five.
“So we certainly cannot take it easier and we are never happy when someone falls sick,” Everitt added.
While Everitt had the full complement of players to choose from, the Sharks’ tight five does show a couple of changes from the outfit that would have been considered the first-choice selection a few weeks ago. The selections of Fez Mbatha to start at hooker and JJ van der Mescht at lock point to the KwaZulu-Natalians bulking up the scrum to counter Western Province’s key strength.
“Fez Mbatha went really well against Griquas and made the scrum stronger; Dan Jooste was struggling with an eye injury last week and we actually weren’t sure whether he’d be fit this weekend, so he will start off the bench,” Everitt said.
“JJ van der Mescht is purely picked on merit, he had one of his best performances against Griquas and Hyron Andrews hasn’t played for a while so we didn’t feel his body could last the whole 80 minutes.”