Durban — To rotate or not to rotate is not really the question for the modern-day rugby coach — it is when to make unforced changes that are the weekly conundrum, and for Sharks boss Neil Powell, you would imagine that he has to reshuffle his pack this week.
The Sharks host the Lions on Friday night in a United Rugby Championship (URC) fixture and having just got home from a tough trip to the heart of France, where Bordeaux were beaten in the Heineken Cup, Powell surely is going to give a weekend pass to front-line Boks in Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Bongi Mbonambi and Makazole Mapimpi.
That foursome carried a heavy load for South Africa in the November internationals abroad, and indeed in the Rugby Championship before that, and then they had to be pressed almost straight back into action after the calamity against Cardiff which saw a Currie Cup version of the Sharks thrashed 35-0 by the full-strength Welshmen.
That resulted in a coaching change and the following week the Sharks shakily saw off the Ospreys in Durban before looking impressive in beating Harlequins 39-31, with the score-line flattering the English Premiership team because they were allowed to score a late flurry of points when the Sharks suffered a yellow and a red card.
Even more noteworthy was the Sharks’ tenacious victory over Bordeaux at the weekend. It is extremely difficult to win away in the heartland of French rugby and the experienced Springboks in black and white led the way.
But they have to now be given a week on the couch with their families and this has nothing to do with disrespecting the Lions and everything to do with keeping the troops fresh.
The following week, the Sharks host the Bulls on New Year’s Eve in another URC derby and you can expect them to bring out their full array of heavy artillery for that one.
As it is turning out for the Sharks, they don’t have to rest their legion of Boks all at once because injury and suspensions have the silver lining of ensuring star players are making staggered returns.
For instance, Lukhanyo Am could not be fresher after missing three months of rugby with a knee injury.
He hurt his knee playing in the Rugby Championship match against the Wallabies in Adelaide and made his comeback off the bench against Bordeaux and he immediately was his composed self and it is a big boost for the Sharks to have him back for this busy period — after the Bulls game, the Sharks are away to Connacht, then host Bordeaux in the return match and then they are off to Harlequins and Edinburgh.
Those matches are all in a row and squad depth is going to be sorely tested, so when Bok prop Ox Nche comes back from suspension in a fortnight’s time, that will be another timely boost.