• Super Rugby preview: Sharks

    The Sharks are seeking redemption following a poor 2015 season, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

    The Sharks have entered into a period of rebuilding after the departure of Boks Bismarck du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Frans Steyn, Jannie du Plessis and Pieter-Steph du Toit, but they’ll also be aware of the need to promptly return to winning ways.

    Gary Gold’s side could only muster seven wins from 16 Super Rugby matches in 2015, and failed to qualify for the Currie Cup play-offs, but they’ll feel there is an opportunity to start with a clean slate.

    For one, a new-look squad has been assembled, with some high-profile recruits such as Willie le Roux, Coenie Oosthuizen and Jacques Potgieter, not to mention Chiliboy Ralepelle. There are also changes among the coaching staff, with Ryan Strudwick (forwards coach), Robert du Preez (skills and attack), and Omar Mouneimne (defence) all set for their first Super Rugby season with the Sharks. Mouneimne, in particular, will have a key role to play, with the Sharks’ defensive frailties having proved to be a perennial problem in 2015.

    Expectations over the Sharks’ prospects have been tempered, but there’s no doubt this squad won’t be lacking for motivation after a year of underachievement.

    Jacques Potgieter, nicknamed ‘Jackpot’ by his Waratahs teammates during his impressive two-year stint in Sydney, is an astute recruit by the Sharks. With his ability to play at flank and lock, Potgieter will add immense utility value to the Sharks’ set-up, while he will also add experience to a relatively youthful pack. He played his junior rugby in Durban, but really made a name for himself while plying his trade for the Bulls, and would go on to earn three Test caps in 2012. However, while Potgieter’s international career didn’t quite take off at the time, his spell in Australia served to improve his skills and versatility. Complemented by his traditional strengths as a physical, explosive ball-carrier, Potgieter will return to the Sharks as a far more well-rounded player, and as a Super Rugby winner, having played an instrumental role in the Waratahs’ successful campaign in 2014. In the absence of now French-based Willem Alberts, Potgieter will have an important role to play this season, and could well prove to be a ‘Jackpot’ signing for the Sharks.

    Although the Sharks may have some concerns with regard to their backline depth, they do boast big-name players such as Cobus Reinach, Pat Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo and JP Pietersen. And then there is Willie le Roux, arguably the most high-profile Sharks recruit for some time, who could add a completely different dimension to the team’s attack. Le Roux didn’t produce his best and brightest play in 2015, struggling with form and fitness at the Cheetahs, while failing to really set the scene alight with the Boks. After a brief stint in Japan, it will be interesting to see how the dynamic fullback fits into the Sharks’ set-up, where they are crying out for someone to make an impression in the No 15 jersey.

    Ruan Botha (Stormers)
    Michael Claassens (Toulon)
    Keegan Daniel (Kubota Spears)
    Johan Deysel (Leopards)
    Willie le Roux (Cheetahs)
    David McDuling (Reds)
    Wandile Mjekevu (Perpignan)
    Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs)
    Joe Pietersen (Cheetahs)
    Jacques Potgieter (Waratahs)
    Chiliboy Ralepelle (Toulouse)
    Philip van der Walt (Biarritz)

    Willem Alberts (Stade Français)
    JC Astle (released)
    Mouritz Botha (Newcastle)
    Lionel Cronjé (released)
    Bismarck du Plessis (Montpellier)
    Jannie du Plessis (Montpellier)
    Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers)
    Wiehan Hay (released)
    Ryan Kankowski (Blitzboks)
    SP Marais (Kings)
    Waylon Murray (released)
    Frans Steyn (Montpellier)
    Jaco van Tonder (released)
    Marco Wentzel (released)
    Jack Wilson (Otago)
    Cameron Wright (Montpellier)
    Fred Zeilinga (Cheetahs)

    2016 FIXTURES
    27 February: Kings (a)
    5 March: Jaguars (h)
    12 March: Stormers (a)
    18 March: Bulls (a)
    26 March: Crusaders (h)
    1-3 April: BYE
    9 April: Lions (h)
    16 April: Blues (a)
    22 April: Highlanders (a)
    29 April: Chiefs (a)
    7 May: Hurricanes (h)
    14 May: Jaguars (a)
    21 May: Kings (h)
    27-29 May: BYE
    2 July: Lions (a)
    9 July: Cheetahs (h)
    15 July: Sunwolves (h)

    Super 12
    1996: 4th (finalists)
    1997: 4th (semi-finalists)
    1998: 3rd (semi-finalists)
    1999: 7th
    2000: 12th
    2001: 2nd (finalists)
    2002: 10th
    2003: 11th
    2004: 7th
    2005: 12th
    Super 14
    2006: 5th
    2007: 1st (finalists)
    2008: 3rd (semi-finalists)
    2009: 6th
    2010: 9th
    Super Rugby
    2011: 6th (qualifier)
    2012: 6th (finalists)
    2013: 8th
    2014: 3rd (semi-finalists)
    2015: 11th
    Note: Played as Natal in 1996 and 1997

    2015 RECORD
    Won: 7 (44%)
    Lost: 9

    5,501 – Metres run (Rank 15)
    229 – Defenders beaten (Rank 14)
    95 – Clean breaks (Rank 13)
    3 – Red cards received (Rank 1)
    368 – Missed tackles (Rank 2)
    417 – Kicks from hand (Rank 2)
    23 – Lineouts stolen (Rank 4)
    Source: Vodacom Rugby App

    The Sharks’ six-match losing streak in 2015 was their worst run of results since the horror season of 2000

    Lwazi Mvovo

    Bulls preview
    Cheetahs preview
    Kings preview
    Lions preview
    Stormers preview

    VIDEO: New Super Rugby format explained using Sharks as example

    Photo: Gerhard Durand/BackpagePix

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    Craig Lewis