While the Vodacom Super Rugby competition may not be a place to blood youngsters into top class rugby, given the opportunities gained by many of the new Cell C Sharks players last year, this is not a concern for our coaching staff.
There were a few losses of senior, experienced players in 2016 which could have had a big impact on the team, but on the evidence of our pre-season matches, there are some quality players emerging and a good balance within the squad, as alluded to by assistant coach Sean Everitt.
“The youngsters brought a lot of enthusiasm, they’ve worked hard in the off-season and we can’t compare where we are this year to this time last year,” he explained. “It’s different because we have lost experience, like JP Pietersen and Willie le Roux. But the youngsters that came through the Currie Cup have grown considerably and they all featured well in that competition last year so they’ve all certainly played themselves into contention. We’re very excited.”
Paul Jordaan is another experienced player who left last year, but the signing of Jeremy Ward is a positive step in filling the void.
“Jeremy is a good signing for us, being one of the top players in his position at age group level last year. He’s fitted in well and trained exceptionally hard this year – he’s one of the hardest workers in the squad – but we also mustn’t forget someone like Johan Deysel who came in from the Leopards and played for Namibia in the Rugby World Cup in 2015. He’s done well.
“Although we’ve lost Paul and JP, we need to move on and I think these guys have got what it takes to get us to where we want to go.”
Something else to excite the coaches, and fans, is the renewed halfback partnership between Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie, both of whom spent time on the injury list last year.
“We missed Cobus a lot last year,” Everitt admitted. “He’s been unlucky with injuries over the past couple of years, but he is back and provides us with X-factor. He’s a good all-round scrumhalf , an opportunist with a good boot as well. But more importantly, he’s been here for a long time, he understands the system, gets on well with the coaches and he certainly delivers on the field. We’re very happy to have him back.”
The Cell C Sharks haven’t had the luxury of having Lambie and Reinach play together for an extended period of time but look forward to it in 2017.
“We’ve fallen short over the last few years as far as keeping that partnership going which hasn’t been easy because Vodacom Super Rugby isn’t really a tournament where you want to blood new youngsters – Currie Cup is a better competition for that – but we have had good replacements who played particularly well.
“It’s important that we’ve worked hard with the youngsters because at some stage, Pat has to rest and we need to have options. But we do have depth in those positions.”
On the flip side of the injection of youth is the value of experience and Everitt confirmed that French international, Clemont Poitrenaud’s role is certainly not only as a senior bystander, offering advice and mentoring the young players.
“Clement is definitely in contention for a position in the starting XV or matchday 23. He brings a lot of experience having played in 49 Tests for France and with the young backline we do have, someone with his experience at Test level is valuable for us to lead, guide and mentor the young guys.
“He’s a wonderful guy, very popular amongst his team-mates and he’s surprised the guys with how good his English actually is. He fits in well, has a good sense of humour and he trains really well and brings a good skillset to our environment.”