Sharks head coach Neil Powell has stayed behind at the team’s Kings Park base but is optimistic that his stand-in, Currie Cup mentor Joey Mongalo, will be able to return from Galway with the points although they are taking on tricky Connacht with a second-string side.
While Powell and most of the first-choice stars in the Sharks squad are focusing on the crucial Champions Cup match against Bordeaux-Begles next week, just three Springboks are in the squad to play Connacht, with three potential URC debutants on the bench.
Ntuthuko Mchunu will anchor the scrum (with Carlu Sadie), Rohan Janse van Rensburg will bring plenty of punch to the midfield, and scrumhalf Grant Williams is a potentially lethal substitute.
Former Free State Cheetahs lock Ockie Barnard, Currie Cup utility forward Corne Rahl and former Westville Boys High centre Ethan Hooker could be thrown into the deep end, with The Sports Ground being a daunting venue to play, especially in midwinter. Young Nevaldo Fleurs is the starting flyhalf, with Lionel Cronje on the bench.
“We see this as an all-round opportunity to develop and Joey has the chance to show what he is capable of. He’s been at that level before as the Bulls’ defence coach,” director of rugby Powell said on Friday.
“Joey is a great person and coach, he’s full of energy and I know he will definitely motivate and fire up the guys. We have tasked them with coming back with the points.
“It’s important for us to manage our squad well, this selection is part of our rotation policy. If I look at our travel schedule over the next few weeks then I cannot imagine one team playing all those games.
“We want as much as energy as possible when we get to games 10 and 11 of this block, this is number seven, so we’re in the middle of it. We also want to create squad depth,” Powell said.
Before the Sharks eventually disband on February 4 for a one-week break, they host Bordeaux in the Champions Cup in Durban next weekend, and then travel to Harlequins. They return to URC action against Edinburgh on January 28, before returning home for a vital home derby against the Stormers on February 3.
Connacht are up first though and they are a difficult team to break down, especially at home.
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“It’s a tough place to play, a lot of teams go there with strong teams, hoping for a win, but they don’t get it,” Powell said. “You have to battle it out for the full 80 minutes against Connacht.
“In a lot of games they have come back to win in the last 20 minutes, so we have to make sure we don’t tap out before the final whistle.
“They are very physical and really direct and they don’t go away. They manage the game well, especially with their kicking, and they are familiar with their own conditions and play towards that.”
Sharks: Anthony Volmink, Yaw Penxe, Murray Koster, Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, Marnus Pogieter, Nevaldo Fleurs, Cameron Wright, Celimpilo Gumede, Henco Venter, James Venter, Reniel Hugo (c), Thembelani Bholi, Carlu Sadie, Fez Mbatha, Ntuthuko Mchunu. Bench – Kerron van Vuuren, Dian Bleuler, Khutha Mchunu, Ockie Barnard, Corne Rahl, Grant Williams, Lionel Cronje, Ethan Hooker.
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