Sharks coach John Plumtree aims to end the British and Irish Lions’ winning three-game run on Wednesday but is upset he won’t have nine of his Springboks stars to help him.
The nine are in a training camp preparing for the three tests and Plumtree laments the fact that the Boks won’t release players to face the Lions in the tourists’ six warmup games.
“I would like to have seen a full strength Western Province team playing the Lions at Newlands (on Saturday) and that would be an occasion to remember. The same goes for the Sharks.”
A New Zealander, Plumtree said the practice of not letting the potential test players face the touring teams had become the norm.
“The same thing happened in New Zealand in 2005 when I was coaching Wellington,” he said. “We were not allowed to use our All Blacks.”
Sharks captain Johann Muller, who will line up in the second row and pack down against Lions captain Paul O’Connell, said the practice would mean that some of the Boks players wouldn’t face the Lions at all.
“There are 28 players in the Springboks squad and a good few of those will not end up being used in the tests,” he said.
“So they will wind up not having played against the Lions who are here once in a lifetime. How sad is that?”
The nine missing from the Sharks squad on Wednesday are backs Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Adrian Jacobs, Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn and forwards Ryan Kankowski, Tendai Mtawarira, John Smit and Bismarck du Plessis.
Only prop Deon Carstens has been released from the Boks squad to play in this game, but the weakened Sharks lineup will have three others with test experience, Muller, veteran fullback Stefan Terblanche and Jannie du Plessis.
There is little doubt that a full strength Sharks lineup would have had every chance to end the Lions’ winning run with Ian McGeechan and his coaching team striving to find a way of combatting the Boks strength at the breakdown.
The Lions had to come from 12 points down to beat a Royal XV in their opening game at Rustenburg and, although they hammered the Golden Lions 74-10 in Johannesburg, almost squandered a 20-0 lead in Bloemfontein before edging the Cheetahs – who finished last in the Super 14 competition – by 26-24.
McGeechan has also decided not to send out his potential first choice XV ahead of the first test here in Durban on June 20, preferring to give each of his 38 players at least two games.
“The main thing had been to get everyone playing in those first three games. Now, in the next three games it is to keep looking at some of the combinations,” said the Scot, who is on his seventh Lions tour either as a player or a coach.
“The only other way of doing it is you separate the teams. You say to half the squad ‘you are not going to be involved in a test match.’ I am not prepared to do that.”
O’Connell is the only one from the pack against the Cheetahs to start against the Sharks although McGeechan explained that was because he is still trying out different combinations.
One that seems likely to stick all the way into the tests is the center combination of Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts, while Ronan O’Gara is back to try and see off the flyhalf challenges of Stephen Jones and James Hook, who were outstanding with their kicking against the Golden Lions.
Sharks: Stefan Terblanche, Chris Jordaan, Andries Strauss, Riaan Swanepoel, Luzuko Vulindlu, Monty Dumond, Rory Kockott, Deon Carstens, Skipper Badenhorst, Jannie d