Springboks Bismarck du Plessis, JP Pietersen and Stephan Lewies will all return to the Sharks’ starting line-up for their SuperRugby match against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday, director of rugby Gary Gold announced on Wednesday.
The embattled Sharks will be desperate to start their tour on a positive note and hooker Du Plessis and lock Lewies will bring some much-needed physicality to the pack, while the experience, size and defensive nous of Pietersen is going to be crucial at outside centre as the visitors look to contain one of the most potent backlines in Super Rugby.
Franco Marais, Waylon Murray and Mouritz Botha all move down to the bench.
The other changes to the starting line-up see tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis rested and replaced by Lourens Adriaanse for a match that will test the Sharks’ mobility and defence more than their set-piece prowess, while Willem Alberts shifts to eighthman with Renaldo Bothma moving to blindside flank.
Gold confirmed that, because of injuries, he is going to have to shuffle his loose-forward stocks carefully, with Etienne Oosthuizen the only reserve flank on tour.
“Etienne will get some game time and will have to start a few games to give other guys like Renaldo or Willem a rest. At this stage it’s the only option I have with Ryan Kankowski and Tera Mtembu injured, Jean Deysel still serving his suspension and the Du Preez brothers with the SA U20 squad. We don’t have any more options and we have to look at it carefully and see how we go, it just means that Etienne is going to play more of a role. Mouritz Botha and Stephan Lewies can cover the blindside, if need be, but hopefully we don’t have that situation,” Gold said.
Fred Zeilinga will be flyhalf for at least another week and will be looking to impress after struggling against the Bulls a fortnight ago. Francois Steyn returns from suspension next week, and is flying over to New Zealand in the next couple of days, while Lionel Cronje is the other option for the number 10 jersey.
Steyn can, of course, also play fullback or centre and it is anybody’s guess where Gold will eventually employ him next weekend against the Hurricanes.
“Frans’s strength comes from his ability to cover all three positions, we will see what happens this weekend. He will only be joining the team this weekend, and we will see how all the guys go and who performs and we will have a look at where we best see Frans fit into the team. I see him as all three of those positions,” Gold said.
Team: Odwa Ndungane, S’bura Sithole, JP Pietersen, Andre Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, Fred Zeilinga, Cobus Reinach, Willem Alberts, Renaldo Bothma, Marcell Coetzee, Marco Wentzel, Stephan Lewies, Lourens Adriaanse, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Bench – Franco Marais, Dale Chadwick, Matt Stevens, Mouritz Botha, Etienne Oosthuizen, Conrad Hoffmann, Lionel Cronje, Waylon Murray.