Durban — It is an unfortunate reality of the United Rugby Championship that segments of it overlap with international tournaments and it is a pity indeed for the Sharks that six of their star players will be in a hotel in Umhlanga Rocks watching their team play Zebre on Friday before playing for the Springboks against Argentina in the Rugby Championship on Saturday.
It was the same in November last year when a youthful Sharks team, without 10 Boks, ventured tentatively into the URC with a difficult tour of Europe, although they did learn quickly, it must be said.
Of course, the South African teams were a different proposition when they got their Boks back, plus hosted the Europeans in very different SA conditions.
Where does this leave coach Sean Everitt’s Sharks as they visit Zebre on Friday? Well, the Sharks have certainly wisened up after all of the SA teams got a hiding at the breakdown this time last year and Everitt said this week that they spend much of their pre-season getting better at their breakdown work.
Speaking of pre-season, the Sharks have had their first proper preparation for a season for two years and will be much better for it.
When Covid-19 struck, the rugby season as we know it was all over the show and there was no time for the luxury of a two-month pre-season conditioning programme such as the one the Sharks have just undergone.
Unfortunately, the pre-season had two major casualties and what would the odds have been on two flyhalves — Curwin Bosch and Lionel Cronje — both breaking their arms in training?
“That was very bad luck, but we are very fortunate to have Boeta Chamberlain in good form. He has played very well in our two warm-up games — wins over the Lions and Stormers —and let’s remember how well Boeta played on that tour last November. He took his opportunity very well,” Everitt said.
The Sharks are up against a Zebre side that almost pulled off the shock of the century in last week’s opening round, when Leinster had to pull a rabbit out of the hat to sneak a last-minute win in Parma.
Last season, Zebre finished last and could not buy a win while Leinster are arguably the best team in Europe, so clearly the Italians have been gainfully employed in the off-season.
They have a new coaching staff and how about this for a twist … their attack coach is Dave Williams, who had the same role at the Sharks for three seasons before heading to English club Bath, and now he is in Italy.
Williams was highly regarded at Kings Park and now he is working wonders at Zebre plus he has the inside scoop on the Sharks players, so Zebre will be well prepared.
Sharks – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Thaakir Abrahams, 10 Boeta Chamberlain, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Dylan Richardson, 6 James Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Gerbrant Grobler, 3 Thomas du Toit (c), 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu.
Subs: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Dian Bleuler, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Marnus Potgieter.