28 January 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

Sharks Super Rugby 2020 Betting Preview

A new wave of young stars will bring exciting unpredictability to the Sharks in this year’s Super Rugby tournament, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

Coincidently, the turn of the decade sees the Durban franchise usher in a new era, with Springboks Tendai Mtawarira, Akker van der Merwe, Coenie Oosthuizen and the three Du Preez brothers among those having headed abroad after the team’s quarter-final exit last season.

The Sharks have covered their bases commendably well as far as damage control is concerned, and have done so without breaking the bank. On their books, they have four hot prospects who helped the Junior Springboks win bronze at the 2019 World Rugby U20 Championship – captain Phendulani Buthelezi, fellow flank/hooker Dylan Richardson, lock JJ van der Mescht and scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse, who was nominated for the Breakthrough Player of the Tournament award.

Recruitment wise, they signed established stars like Springbok duo Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Ox Nche, and Werner Kok, however, the latter won’t feature in the tournament as he’s part of the Blitzbok team on the road to the Olympic Games.

They’ve also roped in the likes of Cheetahs loose forward Henco Venter and Lions pair James Venter and Madosh Tambwe. Along with a slew of Springboks, new coach Sean Everitt has plenty of talent to work with in his first Super Rugby season.

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Enter Everitt

Everitt, himself, is a breath of fresh air, the polar opposite of the man he replaces – the pragmatic Robert du Preez, whose aggressive attitude toward the media, or “cockroaches” as he branded them, only brought more negativity to the team environment during their erratic 2019 campaign.

Everitt is new to Super Rugby, but he’s an old hand at the Sharks. He guided the Under-19 team to the national title after an undefeated 18-match season in 2018, with a dozen of his players going on to represent the Junior Springboks, and coached the Vodacom Cup and SuperSport Rugby Challenge teams before his promotion to Currie Cup coach last year. He’s highly respected and much-liked by the players, and his hands-on history with the majority of the 2020 squad serves the team well.

The new Sharks mentor said he’s main focus will be developing consistency after the class of 2019 took one step forward and two steps back throughout the tournament. Inconsistency is like a disease; it creeps up and then suddenly sinks its teeth in, yet there’s no quick fix. A new-look squad offers Everitt a clean slate, but the tournament’s earliest-ever start puts rebuilding teams like the Sharks, Bulls and Lions at a disadvantage against settled sides.

New coaches like Everitt isn’t afforded adequate time to test combinations in the shortened pre-season warm-up window, robbing them of one of the best remedies for inconsistency, namely identifying the best possible, and balanced, matchday 23 and giving them a chance to grow. Instead, the likes of Everitt will most likely have to experiment on the job.

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Tough draw

Further complicating matters for the Sharks is the fact that they head out on their overseas tour as early as the second round when they take on the Highlanders, followed by clashes against the Hurricanes, Melbourne Rebels and Reds. A win in the season-opener against the Bulls at Kings Park will, therefore, be imperative to gain a measure of momentum and belief.

Their schedule doesn’t get much easier from there, as they face the Jaguares in their homecoming clash before hosting the Stormers and Chiefs. Should the playoff race go down to the wire like it did last year, the Sharks have the short end of the stick as well, as they wrap up the regular season with away games against the Jaguares and Bulls and a tough last home game against the defending-champion Crusaders.

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World-class backs

The money the Sharks have in the bank is their outstanding, Springbok-laden backline. World-class balance (creativity, power and athleticism), experience and depth – the Durban side have it in spades. Curwin Bosch, Andre Esterhuizen, new captain Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Lwazi Mvovo and JP Pietersen are all Springboks, scrumhalves Louis Schreuder and Cameron Wright have been part of the national set-up while the likes of Aphelele Fassi and Jeremy Ward are Boks in waiting.

After being held back at fullback for years, Bosch will get his opportunity to become the next great Sharks flyhalf this season. A special talent waiting to break back into the Bok set-up after winning his first and only cap in the 22-20 loss to Wales in Washington DC in 2018, Bosch is the perfect pivot to lead the new-generation Sharks. With him at No.10, the Durbanites can beat any team on any given day.

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Powerful prospects

The pack is considerably leaner than the back division and this is where the Sharks could have problems. Losing the all-Bok front row of Mtawarira, Van der Merwe and Oosthuizen is a massive blow, as is the loss of turbo-charged workhorse twins Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez in the back row. The signing of the once and future Bok Nche from the Cheetahs is massive and the star loosehead will play a key role up front with Bok tighthead Thomas du Toit.

Van der Mescht is set to graduate to the senior ranks after making a name for himself at last year’s World Rugby U20 Championship, where he scored a 50m breakaway try against New Zealand that sent ripples through the rugby world. Standing the 2m, 120kg rising star in good stead is the fact that he avoided the pitfall of overly relying on his size at junior level.

Since first coming to light as a member of the South African Schools team in 2017, Van der Mescht’s shown impressive skills and the agility of players 10cm shorter and 20kg lighter than him. He may well be the future in the second row, where he’ll slip in and out with Ruben van Heerden, Hyron Andrews and new acquisition Le Roux Roets. It remains to be seen how much game time the young gargantuan will get, but expect him to maximise his minutes.

The Sharks have solid back-row options – new signings Notshe, James and Henco Venter, and the likes of Buthelezi, Tera Mtembu and Tyler Paul – but they are bound to find it tough against star-studded and tried-and-tested units.

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Title odds

Everitt’s enthusiastic squad aren’t in the title picture due to the crippling exodus of key players. Last season, the star-studded Sharks underperformed and snuck into the play-offs thanks to a last-minute match-winning try from Am against the Stormers. This season, the new-look team would do really well to emulate that eighth-place finish.

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Conference odds

As simple as it sounds, the Sharks have to win their home games if they are to keep up in the South African Conference. The Durbanites were dreadful at home last season, losing five of their eight encounters at Kings Park, three of which were conference clashes – against the Stormers (16-11), Bulls (19-16) and the aforementioned 51-17 hiding at the hands of the Jaguares. Someone has to finish at the bottom of the South Africa Conference and the Sharks look to be the unfortunate ones this year.

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Prediction

The Sharks will be exciting to watch and have the potential to produce a few upsets, but as the first year of a rebuilding phase, progress should be slow and steady. The big concern for the Durbanites is they don’t have a back-up pivot with Super Rugby experience. Boeta Chamberlain, who’s set to be Bosch’s deputy, is a hot prospect, as is Jordan Chait, but of all the local franchises, the Sharks are the leanest and greenest at flyhalf. Unfortunately for them, they look destined to finish in the bottom four, probably 12th.

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Squad

Forwards: Andisa Ntsila, Celimpilo Gumede, Craig Burden, Dylan Richardson, Emile van Heerden, Evan Roos, Fezokuhle Mbatha, Henco Venter, Hyron Andrews, James Venter, JJ van der Mescht, John-Hubert Meyer, Jordan Sesink-Clee, Juan Schoeman, Kerron van Vuuren, Khutha Mchunu, Le Roux Roets, Tera Mtembu, Michael Kumbirai, Mzamo Majola, Ox Nche, Phepsi Buthelezi, Ruben van Heerden, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Thomas du Toit, Tyler Paul.

Backs: Andre Esterhuizen, Aphelele Fassi, Cameron Wright, Curwin Bosch, Grant Williams, Henry (Boeta) Chamberlain, Jeremy Ward, Jordan Chait, JP Pietersen, Louis Schreuder, Lukhanyo Am (captain), Lwazi Mvovo, Madosh Tambwe, Makazole Mapimpi, Marius Louw, Murray Koster, Sanele Nohamba, Sbu Nkosi, Thaakir Abrahams.

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Fixtures

January 31: Bulls (h)
February 7: Highlanders (a)
February 15: Hurricanes (a)
February 22: Melbourne Rebels (a)
February 29: Reds (a)
March 7: Jaguares (h)
March 14: Stormers (h)
March 21: Chiefs (h)
April 4: Lions (a)
April 11: Waratahs (h)
April 18: Stormers (a)
April 25: Brumbies (h)
May 2: Lions (h)
May 9: Jaguares (a)
May 16: Bulls (a)
May 23: Crusaders (h)

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