ONCE again the Sharks have opted for an overseas preseason hit-out instead of facing their South African foes like other teams.
With the monotony that is the Super Rugby pitting the South African teams through double rounds of remorseless Derbies, it may work well for Gary Gold’s side to play a different opposition.
While acquainted with Toulon, Toulouse is a new challenge. These are questions to which the Sharks will be looking for answers :
• Life after Frans Steyn
Steyn’s presence and versatility never allowed for any inside-back nor current captain Pat Lambie to settle down in the inside channels. Lambie is the first-choice flyhalf, which makes his inside-centre an interesting pick. Heimar Williams and Andre Esterhuizen did not cover themselves in glory last year, while Paul Jordaan is far more comfortable at 13.
With Namibian Johan Deysel in the squad, it will be interesting to see how they pair up. He may not possess Steyn’s boot, but he is a solid defensive option. Lambie is a better-rounded pivot than Deysel’s metronomic, but limited national teammate Theuns Kotze.
• Best back-row combination
The Sharks are spoilt for choice in this department. Who is used where and how will be very important. There has to come a time when players such as Etienne Oosthuizen need to start settling in one position. Marcell Coetzee should have the open-side position on lockdown, but the Sharks’ youngsters who did Currie Cup duty showed they were no pushovers.
Keegan Daniel’s comeback and Lubabalo “Tera” Mtembu’s pending return from injury will leave Gold with selection headaches come February 27.
• Are Franco Marais and Kyle Cooper unsinkable?
With front-rower Bismarck du Plessis gone, hopefully the games against the French sides will go some way towards providing an answer to this question. But with Chiliboy Ralepelle set to make his Super Rugby return only in April, the duo have plenty of time to establish a pecking order.
Cooper fell away badly last season, while Marais could not shake off Monde Hadebe’s challenge. The latter has now joined the Kings, thinning the already depleted stocks the Sharks have at hooker.
• Coenie Oosthuizen a loosehead or tighthead?
Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira’s availability will see Oosthuizen pressed into service at tighthead.
Regardless of their quality, the French frontrows will give Oosthuizen a stern examination. Gerhard Engelbrecht and Lourens Adriaanse are probably better tight-head options, but Oosthuizen’s Springbok pedigree precedes him. This tour could be the making of him at No3.
• Where to play Joe Pietersen?
Pietersen is a solid all-round player, but there seems to be better specialist options around him at the Sharks this year.
Garth April is a better attacking flyhalf as second choice to Lambie. Lwazi Mvovo’s improved tactical kicking and high-ball work make him a better back-up option for fullback Willie le Roux.
Sibusiso Sithole and Wandile Mjekevu are stronger, younger and faster wing selections.
So where does Pietersen fit in?