Sharks boast new-look front row

The Sharks will have a completely new-look loose-forward trio for their opening 2005 Vodacom Super 12 rugby fixture against the Stormers at Newlands on Friday night.

Jacques Botes, Braam Immelman and Jaco Gouws, who will wear the skipper’s tag, got the nod from coach Kevin Putt in the starting line-up with Charl van Rensburg and Solly Tyibilika ready to come off the bench.

In the front row, Eduard Coetzee and Brendon Botha will prop Skipper Badenhorst at hooker; John Smit, nursing a slight injury, will be on the bench; and Nico Breedt and Albert van den Berg will lock the scrum.

Of tremendous interest is the return of the much-vaunted halfback pairing of Butch James and Craig Davidson, who are back after crippling injuries last season.

With Henno Mentz still sidelined through injury, the wings berth goes to Dean Hall and Odwa Ndungane, with the highly talented and mercurial Brent Russell filling the fullback spot. The centre pairing of Gcobani Bobo and Trevor Halstead has an air of strength and skill about it as the Sharks prepare to bury their woes of last season.

So far, so good, in practice outings against the Bulls, the London Harlequins and the Leopards. Now comes the real test.

The shape of the team is very much based on the continuity of pre-season performances. It is a great occasion for Craig Davidson, who will be playing his 50th Super 12 match and with this honour will be joining the likes of current squad members Charl van Rensburg and John Smit, as one of only five Sharks players to achieve this feat.

One is Henno Mentz. Another is Den Carstens, and Warren Britz is recovering from illness. The return of Butch James means that Conrad Barnard and Herkie Kruger, while being prominent in pre-season work, will need to start the 2005 campaign from the sidelines.

Clearly, Putt believes that James is potentially one of the best flyhalves in the world.

“When he was absent from the Sharks side last season we realised how important he was to the team,” said Putt.

Another exclusions that might be queried is AJ Venter, who is looking good and in the final stages of his rehab in order to ensure he is fully fit.

Tsepo Kokoali is recovering from a groin operation and should be back in action soon, and Johann Muller is almost fully recovered from his shoulder surgery.

Putt and his management team are confident of their team strategy as they go into the final stages of preparation for this world-class competition. There is no question that they are fully committed to giving Sharks supporters something to cheer about before they return home for their run of five home games.—Sapa

The team: Eduard Coetzee, Skipper Badenhorst, Brendon Botha, Nico Breedt, Albert van den Berg, Jacques Botes, Braam Immelman, Jaco Gouws (captain), Craig Davidson, Butch James, Dean Hall, Gcobani Bobo, Trevor Halstead, Odwa Ndungane and Brent Russell

Reserves: John Smit, Danie Saayman, Charl van Rensburg, Solly Tyibilika, Ruan Pienaar, Rudi Keil and Jacques Schutte