The Sharks have bolstered a squad that should compete at the business end of the competition, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
When the Sharks progressed to a home final in the 2017 Currie Cup, coach Robert du Preez made no secret of the fact their game plan revolved around playing to the strengths of a powerful pack. It was a largely effective approach, but a disappointing 33-21 loss to Western Province in the title decider served as an apt illustration that they needed to add more weapons to their all-round arsenal.
The good news for Sharks fans is that the team’s recruitment drive suggests the Durban-based side will be looking to embrace a more ambitious approach in the 2018 season. In the space of just a few days after the Currie Cup final, the Sharks announced the signing of three highly-rated backs, with flyhalf Rob du Preez, utility back Leolin Zas and wing Makazole Mapimpi recruited to add some depth and firepower to the attack.
When one considers it’s a backline that already boasts talented youngsters such as Curwin Bosch, Lukhanyo Am, Jeremy Ward and S’bu Nkosi, there is every reason to believe the Sharks’ backs will complement their powerful pack this season.
The key for the Sharks will be to get off to a good start. They face the Lions, Waratahs and Sunwolves before heading off on a challenging four-week overseas tour. Once they return, they can look forward to a string of games at home, not to mention a timely bye at the end of April. From there, a well-rounded Sharks side should be in a position to push for another playoff place.
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It’s difficult to look past twins Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez, especially as the latter is likely to be a real man on a mission this season. The big No 8 spent plenty of time with the Springboks in 2017, but had to wait until the end-of-year tour before finally earning his first Test cap. Du Preez will be viewing this Super Rugby season as an opportunity to make a serious claim for a regular spot in the Springboks’ match-day squad. He has made the No 8 jersey at the Sharks his own and his physicality, defence and ball-carrying ability has seen the 22-year-old establish himself as one of their most influential forwards. With the 2019 World Cup fast approaching, this will be a massive season for Du Preez as he looks to continue ‘catching up’ to his twin brother, who has already featured in 10 Tests.
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Makazole Mapimpi was one of the most exciting surprise packages to emerge from the 2017 Super Rugby season, which he finished as the joint third highest try-scorer in the competition (11). His lethal finishing and lightning speed made him one of the true standouts in an unheralded Kings side. Mapimpi moved to the Cheetahs, where he continued to impress in the Pro14 – claiming nine tries in 10 games. The 27-year-old then linked up with the Sharks, where he will be hoping to not only make his mark at a ‘big’ Super Rugby franchise, but to continue strengthening his case for a Springbok call-up. He will face some stern competition, considering that Kobus van Wyk, Lwazi Mvovo, S’bu Nkosi and Leolin Zas all offer exciting options on the wing, but the fact remains he should add immense value at the back.
Rob du Preez underlined his class in the 2017 Currie Cup final and will provide the Sharks with another quality option at flyhalf, after the departure of Pat Lambie.
After eight years with the Sharks, Pat Lambie finally opted to make the move to French club Racing 92 after ongoing injury woes. He will be sorely missed, along with halfback partner Cobus Reinach.
Akker van der Merwe, André Esterhuizen, Coenie Oosthuizen, Cameron Wright, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Courtney Winnaar, Dan du Preez, Curwin Bosch, Franco Marais, Garth April, Gideon Koegelenberg, Grant Williams, Hyron Andrews, Jeremy Ward, Jacques Vermeulen, Johan Deysel, Jean Droste, Kobus van Wyk, Jean-Luc du Preez, Leolin Zas, John-Hubert Meyer, Louis Schreuder, Juan Schoeman, Lukhanyo Am, Keegan Daniel, Lwazi Mvovo, Kerron van Vuuren, Makazole Mapimpi, Khuta Mchunu, Marius Louw, Lubabalo ‘Tera’ Mtembu, Michael Claassens, Mzamo Majola, Rhyno Smith, Philip van der Walt, Rob du Preez, Ross Geldenhuys, Sbusiso Nkosi, Ruan Botha (c), Tristan Blewett, Stephan Lewies, Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, Thomas du Toit, Tyler Paul, Wian Vosloo.
17 February: Lions (a)
23-24 February: BYE
3 March: Waratahs (h)
10 March: Sunwolves (h)
17 March: Brumbies (a)
23 March: Rebels (a)
31 March: Blues (a)
6 April: Hurricanes (a)
14 April: Bulls (h)
21 April: Stormers (h)
27-28 April: BYE
5 May: Highlanders (h)
12 May: Bulls (a)
19 May: Chiefs (h)
25 May: Jaguares (a)
BREAK FOR JUNE TESTS
30 June: Lions (h)
7 July: Stormers (a)
14 July: Jaguares (h)
OTHER SA PREVIEWS
Photo: Philip Maeta/Gallo Images