WHILE Sharks coach John Plumtree yesterday named an entirely predictable line-up for the Currie Cup semi-final at King’s Park tomorrow, Lions coach Loffie Eloff has made significant changes to his back division.
Plumtree, as expected, named the fit and furious Bismarck du Plessis ahead of Springbok captain John Smit at hooker, while the experienced Jacques Botes is preferred to the in-form Keegan Daniel on the flank. Plumtree said that he is waiting on a late fitness test on replacement lock Albert van den Berg and Nikolai Blignaut has been bracketed with him on the bench.
But it is a tribute to the physical conditioning of the players, and the Sharks medical team, that after 28 Super 14 and Currie Cup matches — and, for many, a host of Test matches — this season, Plumtree was yesterday able to name a full-strength squad of 22 players.
The Sharks finished top of the log and will head into the semi-final as favourites, but Plumtree is aware of the danger.
“What’s gone before us means nothing. We’re into semi-final week now and it’s obviously a knock-out stage. We’ve got to treat this game against the Lions as our last one and see how it goes.”
Plumtree has stayed with the same 22-man squad for the closing three games of the season, in contrast to Eloff, who yesterday rejigged his back division and shifted the talented but unpredictable Earl Rose from flyhalf to fullback.
Rose, both in general play and in his goal-kicking, had a nightmare outing against the Sharks late last month and Eloff has opted for the more conservative selection in selecting Louis Strydom at flyhalf. Strydom is a prodigious kicker and Eloff is clearly hoping to play a tighter, error-free game in the semi-final.
Fullback Louis Ludik has switched from fullback to wing, in place of Michael Killian, to accommodate Rose at the back.
Eloff has stayed with the same pack that bothered the Sharks at Ellis Park, with the players who were injured in denying Western Province at Newlands on Saturday all passed fit.
“We are going to Durban to play the Sharks as huge underdogs, but that’s the best position to be in,” Eloff said yesterday.
Sharks: Stefan Terblanche, Odwa Ndungane, Adrian Jacobs, Francois Steyn, JP Pietersen, Frederic Michalak, Ruan Pienaar; Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Johann Muller (captain), Steven Sykes, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: John Smit, Deon Carstens, Albert van den Berg/Nikolai Blignaut, Keegan Daniel, Rory Kockott, Bradley Barritt, Waylon Murray.
Lions: Earl Rose, Louis Ludik, Jaque Fourie, Doppies la Grange, Trompie Nontshinga, Louis Strydom, Jano Vermaak, Ernst Joubert, Justin Wheeler, Cobus Grobbelaar (captain), Franco van der Merwe, Anton van Zyl, Ross Geldenhuys, Willie Wepener, Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Lawrence Sephaka, Jannes Labuschagne, Derick Minnie. Chris Jonck, Michael Killian, Jaco van Schalkwyk.
Kick-off: 2.30 pm.