Sharks coach Sean Everitt says they still view JJ van der Mescht primarily as a lock, but believe there could be long-term benefits to the ‘experiment’ of playing him at blindside flank, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In an interesting selection from the Sharks this week, Van der Mescht – the young second-row giant – makes the shift to the Sharks loose trio, where he will pack down in the No 7 jersey.
After a recent Covid-19-related scare, some of the Sharks’ selections have been impacted by this disruption, but Van der Mescht’s move to the back row in the absence of players like Henco Venter and Phepsi Buthelezi will be certainly watched with interest.
In other changes, Thembelani Bholi shifts to No 8, with Dylan Richardson continuing at openside flank, while Sikhumbuzo Notshe is on the bench as he returns from isolation protocols.
‘It’s a good opportunity to look at JJ on the side of the scrum, he has a good skill set and enough pace to fulfil this role,’ Everitt commented at Wednesday’s virtual media briefing. ‘It will be interesting to see how he goes in a position he hasn’t played in for some time, and hasn’t represented the Sharks there before.
‘I think we’ve still been able to select a very strong side,’ Everitt added. ‘At the start of the season, the idea of playing JJ was for him to get some game time and to get him match fit. We’ve been able to build a bit of depth, and give youngsters some senior rugby experience.
‘That’s been good for us, and now to have Thomas [du Toit] returning this week is also a big bonus. We’ve struggled in the set pieces when he hasn’t been there.’
Asked whether the Sharks saw Van der Mescht’s shift to flank as a short-term fix or a long-term option – as perhaps most famously completed by World Cup superstar Pieter-Steph du Toit – Everitt suggested they’d have to wait and see.
‘At the moment we still see him as a lock, but if this experiment works and goes well then it could be an option. Next year when we go into PRO Rugby, we know the games will be tighter and we’ll be relying on our mauls and set pieces more. So it would be great if he comes through well, but we’ll see after Friday.’