• Preview: New-look Sharks in 2020

    Always the bridesmaid, but never the bride. It’s difficult not to use this reference when reflecting on the Sharks’ run of results in Super Rugby, writes CRAIG LEWIS in his SA Rugby magazine preview of the Sharks.

    Over the past four seasons, they have managed to sneak through to the first round of the playoffs, but failed to progress beyond that. For fans, it’s been a combination of highs and lows.

    Despite the fact the Sharks have consistently headed into a new season with great expectations, often with several Springbok players in their ranks, they’ve failed to make the most of the resources at their disposal. Last year, in particular, was a tumultuous time as some off-field drama became a distraction when former coach Robert du Preez found himself in a stand-off with sections of the local media. Whatever the case may be, the Sharks will be hoping that’s all in the past and this year will finally bring a new dawn.

    Eduard Coetzee has taken over as chief executive, while the affable Sean Everitt has come in as head coach after paying his dues in the union’s ranks for several years. For the Sharks, it’s not only a case of looking for a fresh start, but they are also seeking a team culture shift.

    They have bid farewell to some influential Springboks, such as the Du Preez brothers (Jean-Luc, Dan and Rob), Beast Mtawarira and Akker van der Merwe, but they are the one local franchise that has recruited well, with exciting players such as Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Ox Nche, Henco Venter and Madosh Tambwe all arriving in Durban.

    The franchise is also packed with junior talent, and it will be interesting to see if the likes of Sanele Nohamba, Phepsi Buthelezi, Jordan Chait and Fez Mbatha are given more opportunities this season. It’s also worth noting that Everitt has emphatically stated that Curwin Bosch will be viewed almost solely as a flyhalf. Bosch slipped into the international wilderness in 2019, but was selected by the Barbarians for their year-end fixtures and he heads into 2020 with renewed purpose.

    The 22-year-old is certainly a player who will be determined to reach his full potential in his preferred position.

    Ultimately, this season offers a great opportunity for a new-look Sharks side.

    Everitt will be placing a premium on ensuring the Sharks finally break a long-standing winless run against the Bulls in their opening game at Kings Park on 31 January before they head off on an early Australasian tour. If the Durban-based side can bank points from this overseas leg, there is every chance they could lay the foundation for a successful season. If all the stars align, this could be the campaign where they finally fulfil their potential.

    FORWARD TO WATCH

    There will be a youthful look to the Sharks pack this season, and it will be interesting to see if this brings about a change in approach from a set of forwards who will not be short on mobility. Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Ox Nche will bring their own fair share of flair, while World Cup-winner Thomas du Toit will anchor the scrum. However, Notshe is the man to keep your eye on. The six-cap Springbok fell out of the World Cup reckoning in 2019, but he is sure to view the 2020 season as the chance to revitalise his Test aspirations in a new environment. Blessed with talent, the 26-year-old will be determined to take his game to the next level.

    BACK TO WATCH

    The Sharks have a ton of talent in the backline, but can they finally find the means to become a real attacking force this season? With Curwin Bosch at 10, Lukhanyo Am at 13, and Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi on the wings, there is no shortage of firepower. That’s without even mentioning the prodigious talents of Aphelele Fassi. It’s difficult to pinpoint one player to watch, but this could be the season of Lukhanyo Am. In many ways, he was the unsung hero of the Boks’ World Cup-winning campaign. The dynamic centre has come of age and while he has proved to be a superb defender, the fast-paced Super Rugby competition will offer another opportunity for him to assert himself on attack.

    BIG SIGNING

    The Sharks have made some astute signings, none more so than the acquisition of explosive prop Ox Nche, who will look to fill the big boots of Beast Mtawarira.

    BIG LOSS

    A raft of players left the Sharks in 2019, including all three Du Preez brothers. Yet, you can’t look further than legendary prop Beast Mtawarira as the biggest loss.

    COACH

    The rocky Robert du Preez era came to an end last year, so the Sharks will head into another season with a new man at the helm. Sean Everitt has been swimming in the Sharks’ coaching circles for ages. Having been involved at almost every level of coaching at the Durban franchise, Everitt has the opportunity to create some stability. As a superb man manager who has done his apprenticeship, he understands the Sharks’ culture and will know how to get the best out of a talented group of players.

    FIXTURES

    31 January

    Bulls (h)

    7 February

    Highlanders (a)

    15 February

    Hurricanes (a)

    22 February

    Rebels (a)

    29 February

    Reds (a)

    7 March

    Jaguares (h)

    14 March

    Stormers (h)

    21 March

    Chiefs (h)

    Round 9

    Bye

    4 April

    Lions (a)

    11 April

    Waratahs (h)

    18 April

    Stormers (a)

    25 April

    Brumbies (h)

    2 May

    Lions (h)

    9 May

    Jaguares (a)

    16 May

    Bulls (a)

    23 May

    Crusaders (h)

    Round 18

    Bye