Sharks dealt injury blow as Springboks duo face long spells out.
By Gavin Rich.
The light that was at the end of the tunnel in terms of returning cavalry for the beleaguered Hollywoodbets Sharks has turned out to be a bit of a mirage with the confirmation that two key Springboks have been ruled out with relatively long term injuries.
Sharks head coach John Plumtree confirmed on Wednesday that Vincent Koch, who played as a substitute in two playoff games at the Rugby World Cup, has been ruled out for three months due to the knee injury that prevented him from playing in the Rugby World Cup final two and a half weeks ago.
Worse news still was the situation around Bongi Mbonambi, who it turns out might have played his last rugby of the season when he played two minutes of the final in Paris before limping off with a knee injury.
"Vincent is out, he will be out for about three months, and Bongi is out for longer than that, possibly for the rest of the season," said Plumtree during a media briefing.
It is understood that the initial prognosis on Mbonambi is a minimum six month absence from the game, which would put his return to the playing field as May at the earliest, if indeed he does return this season.
The loss of the two Bok front-row forwards is problematic for the Sharks in the sense that the Durban franchise is struggling with injuries at forward.
Gerbrandt Grobler, arguably the Sharks' next best lock behind Eben Etzebeth, was ruled out long term after breaking his arm in a pre-season game. Le Roux Roets is also still on the injured list.
Eben keen to contribute
The good news for the Sharks is that at least Etzebeth looks likely to play once the Bok's three-week enforced post-World Cup rest is done with.
"I've spoken to Eben and he is keen to play and looking forward to it, although obviously I am not bothering him too much at this point," said the Sharks coach.
Another factor offsetting the second row problems for the Sharks is the rapid growth being shown by young Corne Rahl, a youngster who was a star of the Sharks' Currie Cup campaign last season.
However, with Reniel Hugo also out, there is a paucity of experience in the Sharks pack, something that makes Etzebeth's return necessary.
"We have seven forwards who are 23 years of age or under. As a father with a son who is that age, I realise that they are all relative babies and have a lot to learn, and I need to be mindful of that when I set out my expectations of them. My son Taine, who is currently playing in Wales, is 23 and he is still raw and far from the finished product," Plumtree said.
Koch injury means Thomas will be missed more
The loss of Koch until February is problematic for the Sharks in the sense that the former Stormers, Saracens and Wasps player was recruited to off-set the loss of former stalwart and talisman Thomas du Toit to English club Bath.
The Sharks were often a different and much better team when Du Toit was on the field and like Steven Kitshoff at the Stormers, he will be missed by his former team this season.
Again, there was one off-season recruitment that has ensured at least some additional front-row experience in the form of Coenie Oosthuizen, a former Bok tighthead who is back in Sharks colours after a break of four years.
But Du Toit wasn't the only tighthead to depart, he was joined by the mammoth Carlu Sadie at the exit gate in the off-season.
Plumtree unhappy with blanket rest
Meanwhile Plumtree, understandably desperate for some experienced quality reinforcements due to the lengthy injury list he sits with already at this early stage of the season, has voiced his unhappiness at the blanket rest the Bok management have stipulated for the World Cup-winning squad.
"With someone like Eben, I can understand, and obviously Ox Nche and others who played a bit part in the key games at the World Cup too. Those guys do need a rest because of their heavy work load recently. However, I think it should have been done on an individual rather than on a blanket basis as there are some players who really need to be playing after not being utilised much.
"An example is Jaden Hendrikse (scrumhalf), who hardly played at the World Cup and in the warmup games, and was out of rugby before that after being injured in March. How is it helping Jaden’s rugby for him to be off the field when he has already been out for a long time. These decisions need to take the individual players’ needs into account."
Plumtree will be getting one Bok back for the weekend’s first home game of the current campaign against Connacht in the form of centre Lukhanyo Am, who flew to the World Cup only as a late replacement but did not get to play.
However, with Makazole Mapimpi also ready to play again after being out since he was injured quite early in the World Cup, it is hard not to see Plumtree's point when he suggests he could have had more players back for this important game, particularly the two scrumhalves (Grant Williams, who can also play wing, is the other).