The Sharks are expected to unleash Springbok star Jean-Luc du Preez in Saturday’s semi-final against the Blue Bulls in Durban, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Du Preez returned to the Sharks at the conclusion of the Rugby Championship, and while there was some concern over a shoulder niggle that he was carrying, the youngster has been back in training this week and can be considered for selection.
His presence will add to the Sharks’ firepower up front, with Jacques Vermeulen the likely man to unfortunately make way despite having been one of the star performers throughout the Currie Cup.
It could prove to be a moot point considering Vermeulen was said to have taken a blow to the ribs last weekend, but either way, it would surely be impossible to ignore the presence of Du Preez, who has enjoyed a standout year for both the Sharks and Boks.
The 22-year-old has featured in nine Tests for the Springboks this season, and has particularly made a meaningful impact off the bench, with the youngster bringing a real physicality and intensity to proceedings during several cameo appearances.
The Sharks will now be hoping that he can bring that confidence and imposing presence to this weekend’s highly-anticipated playoff match, where he is likely to be deployed alongside twin brother Dan.
With the Du Preez twins reunited, it should bring a different edge to the Sharks’ showing up front on Saturday, with the battle among the loose forwards sure to be yet another compelling one.
Athletic former Blitzboks star Tim Agaba has added an exciting new element to the Bulls’ back row, and earlier this week Sharks assistant coach Ryan Strudwick acknowledged that the Pretoria-based franchise were certainly offering different threats to teams of old.
‘Mitch [coach John Mitchell] has given the Bulls a new style of play, which is typically Kiwi. Their forwards still come round the corner at you but they have moved on from their old one-off runner, bashing style of old.
‘The forwards are now looking to handle the ball and look for support runners. You never saw that from Bulls forwards before.’
Although there has been some concern over the fitness of powerful prop Thomas du Toit, he is also expected to recover in time to take up his place in the starting lineup.
And while the Sharks won’t be expected to make too many changes, it will be interesting to see whether winger Kobus van Wyk and Springbok squad member Louis Schreuder perhaps return to the run-on XV.