The hard-hitting Willem Alberts returns to the Sharks’ starting line-up for one last hurrah at Kings Park in their final SuperRugby match against the Stormers on Saturday before he joins the foreign legion.
The Springbok loose forward has had a badly disrupted season due to injury, playing just six games in which he has had six hours of action, but he has apparently recovered just in time to earn his 73rd SuperRugby cap for the Sharks before heading for Stade Francais.
Saturday’s SuperRugby finale (for the Sharks at least) is also the farewell for the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, who are also heading to France, most probably to join the previous Sharks coach, Jake White, at Montpellier.
Another Springbok flank, Marcell Coetzee, also returns to the Sharks line-up, boosting an outfit that is otherwise largely unchanged from the squad that has won two games in a row, against the Reds and the Rebels.
Coach Gary Gold said on Thursday that the team were eager to end a tough campaign on a high note, with three successive victories.
“We want to make the same statement as when it was important to beat the Reds and Rebels, and why it was important not to give up the fight on tour after two good performances against the Hurricanes and Waratahs. Teams do go through tough times; there will be critics, people who want to throw stones, that we’ll take on the chin. But the people that really matter know the challenges we’ve had, that it’s been a complicated year and the thing that would really frustrate them would be if the team gave up and rolled over. That we’re not prepared to do.
“The statement a win would make is that it matters, whoever you’re playing. We have to pitch up and we owe it to the people who have been loyal to us through the bad times, we need to give them good times now. It is critically important that we put up a proper performance and finish the campaign on a high. Not for any other reason other than the fact that it would be three wins on the bounce and give us confidence moving into the next chapter of our lives.
“I can’t sit here and say I’m happy with where we’re sitting on the log, I’m not happy at all. But in terms of the team and turning it around, I’m very proud of the character they’ve shown, I’m really appreciative of how the players have stuck together and stuck by us as a coaching staff; I never felt at any time that there was a divide between us and them. If there were issues, we spoke openly about them and that helped us turn the corner; too late unfortunately.
“But there have been lots of positives, youngsters who we never thought would get Super Rugby experience and now they have six or seven games under the belt, that can only do them the world of good,” Gold said.
Team – Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Andre Esterhuizen, S’bura Sithole, Lionel Cronje, Stefan Ungerer, Renaldo Bothma, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Marco Wentzel, Etienne Oosthuizen, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: Franco Marais, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Khaya Majola, Conrad Hoffmann, Fred Zeilinga, Heimar Williams.