Tonight’s opening Currie Cup clash in defence of the Cell C Sharks’ title will be a real tester for a fairly experienced side when we host Griquas at JONSSON KINGS PARK this evening (7.15pm kick-off).
Often the Currie Cup is a competition where introducing youngsters into the senior side is the order of the day, but this year there is a very settled look about a team with instantly recognisable names as well as an old favourite who has returned to the fold.
JP Pietersen is back in the Black & White jersey of the Cell C Sharks and his leadership and abilities will be invaluable in a tough campaign.
“JP has been overseas playing for Toulon in France and he’s come back in really good shape,” explained head coach Sean Everitt in the lead-up to the match. “He’s been criticised in the past for his condition after returning from his stints in Japan, but he’s grown as a person over the last few years and he’s certainly been a revelation at training.
“He’s brought a lot of energy and most importantly a lot of leadership and advice to the youngsters on the practice field. We’re delighted to have JP back and I think any team would, if you consider his experience and the number of tests he’s played for South Africa.”
JP is one of many experienced players, another is Coenie Oosthuizen, a veteran of 30 Tests for the Springboks and the anchor of the scrum.
“Coenie has vast experience, he has played a number of games for South Africa and brings a lot of experience to the team,” Everitt pointed out. “But more importantly he also brings leadership and he’s obviously a really good player in that position. Games are normally won in the tight five, so to have strength and experience in the number three jersey is important to us.”
It’s an old, but truthful axiom of rugby: It’s all won and lost upfront, and to have an experienced tight five, particularly in a game against a team that prides itself on having a tough, uncompromising pack, will no doubt be a vital part of tonight’s match.
“I know the team is relatively experienced, but when you want to bring youngsters through and that’s the plan like we’re doing with Sanele Nohamba and Phepsi Buthelezi, having a strong tight five certainly helps bring those youngsters through so that they’re not under pressure at set-piece, particularly at number 8 and number 9.
“Looking at our tight five, even though they’re experienced and have played Super Rugby, Ruben van Heerden is a young lock, Hyron Andrews is also still young and Kerron van Vuuren came through in Super Rugby, so they’ll be looking to build on that experience during the Currie Cup to develop their own personal careers further.”
“Although the youngsters in the team are bringing so much energy, the older guys are too. There’s a good vibe and every one of the players is looking forward to expressing himself.”
Casting his eye over the challenge ahead, he warns that Griquas will be a tough prospect, one he has admiration and respect for.
“They’re a close-knit group that’s been together for the last six months, so we know we’re in for a heck of a game, we will never underestimate them. My experience in the Currie Cup is that they’ve been a bit of our nemesis when I’ve been involved, so we know what’s coming.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge – and it is going to be a big challenge. In a short competition, you can’t take anyone lightly.”