The Sharks should back the talented Garth April to fill in for Pat Lambie at the start of Super Rugby, but the flyhalf dilemma facing the Bulls is far less clear-cut, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The Sharks and Bulls suffered crippling blows when Lambie and Handré Pollard sustained serious pre-season injuries. Lambie will be out of action for at least eight weeks, while Pollard is set to miss the entire Super Rugby season.
The duo were poised to play key roles this season, and there’s no doubt the title prospects of both teams have been considerably compromised by the loss of their flyhalf generals.
However, with less than two weeks to go until the start of the Super Rugby season, it’s the Sharks who will be feeling far more comfortable about their ability to cope in the absence of their first-choice pivot and skipper.
While Joe Pietersen is an experienced campaigner and strong candidate to slot in at flyhalf – as he did during the Currie Cup – it was the performance of April that was perhaps the most pleasing part of last Thursday’s warm-up match against Toulouse.
As is always the case, only so much can really be read into a friendly match such as that, but the fact remains that April significantly enhanced his reputation with a calm and collected performance.
Although the 24-year-old missed his first couple of shots at goal, he showed good temperament to recover and convert the rest of his goal kicks, while he also scored and created a try.
In the end he finished with a personal haul of 21 points and sent out a strong statement about his ability to step up in the absence of Lambie. With veteran Michael Claassens on his inside, providing direction and strong service, April certainly didn’t look out of place in the Sharks’ starting lineup.
And if the Sharks are going to make good on their endeavours to embrace an attractive brand of rugby this season – a prospect aided considerably by the recruitment of Willie le Roux – April should be the man entrusted with the No 10 jersey.
Although many people I’ve spoken to recently have all queried where April has come from, he’s actually been around for some time, having started his career at the Lions before moving back to Boland and then Western Province.
Capable of also playing at fullback, April joined the Sharks ahead of last year’s Currie Cup season, and it’s clear that he’s thriving in a new environment and could finally be ready to realise the potential that was recognised at a young age.
The Sharks and Lambie have been extremely unlucky with injuries over the last few seasons, and the likes of Frans Steyn, Fred Zeilinga, Tim Swiel and Lionel Cronjé have all had spells at flyhalf with mixed results.
Again, the Sharks will have to settle on a replacement, but with April showing signs of early promise, Pietersen there to provide back-up and talented youngster Innocent Radebe waiting in the wings for his opportunity, there’s suddenly reason for the Durban side to feel a little more optimistic.
Unfortunately, over in Pretoria, reports suggest the performances of both Francois Brummer and Tian Schoeman were far from convincing in Saturday’s pre-season clash against the Lions.
The problem facing the Bulls is a far more serious one in the sense that Pollard will play no part in this Super Rugby campaign, and with his injury coming so late in the pre-season, it’s nigh on impossible to find a suitable candidate to recruit from outside their current group.
Brummer has experience and Schoeman is a player with potential, but it’s asking a lot of them to fill the massive void left by Pollard.
The Sharks are set to kick off their Super Rugby season against the Kings on 27 February, while the Bulls will open their campaign against the Stormers. One side will do so suddenly feeling far more chipper about their flyhalf prospects.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images