The Sharks will have a new captain on Saturday
The Sharks will have a new captain on Saturday for the visit from the Force following the departure from the squad of Bismarck du Plessis (unceremoniously), and Patrick Lambie (enjoying overdue leave arranged for him by the South African Rugby Union, and also because his growing groin strain demands a break).
Leadership has indeed been under the spotlight at the Sharks of late, with the unassuming but quietly calm Lambie showing how it is supposed to be done and the “red mist be danmed!”Bismarck providing a less ideal model.
A captain that twice in three weeks has felt duty-bound to make public apologies for losing his cool has clearly not grasped the essence of his responsibility, and when a four-week ban adds serious consequences to the eruptions, the coach is left wondering how much longer the team can absorb the fall-out. Especially when his diminutive flyhalf shows immense stature and composure in taking over the captaincy and steering a 13-man team home against a Chiefs side that won the title in 2012 and 2013.
But Lambie will quite rightly have his feet up this weekend and Bismarck no doubt has headed for the family’s Free State farm for some introspection on the veld. He will probably be joined there by his brother, another captaincy contender, but Jannie is injured.
Gold’s contenders for the captaincy, with it being a short-term job given that Lambie will return to lead the side in next week’s home game against the Crusaders, amounts to senior players in Ryan Kankowski, Marco Wentzel and stand-in flyhalf Francois Steyn.
The latter leads from the front, is hugely experienced and is not short of battle lust – but then the same can be said for Bismarck, and Steyn himself has twice been carded in three games.
Hot-headed Steyn and red-misted Du Plessis shared an unexpected shower half an hour into the Sharks’ game against the Chiefs … Steyn was later exonerated by a SANZAR judicial hearing for a tackle accusation but, given his short fuse and the fact that he is being moved to a new position, flyhalf, it might not be prudent to encumber him with the responsibility of leading the team.
Wentzel is probably the man for the job. Springbok fans with selectively dim memories of Rudolf Straeuli’s troubled tenure in the early 2000s, might have forgotten that Wentzel was one of Straeuli’s notorious run of one-Bok wonders. Straeuli, having tried everything including forcing the Boks to stand naked in a freezing dam and at gun point to sing “hey diddle, the cat had a fiddle,” then turned his shot gun on the stars and, with eyes closed, implored Danie Craven to drop a Frik du Preez or two out of the star-spangled sky.
With respect to Wentzel, who got his shot under Straeuli in 2002, he has gone on to become a respected ambassador for the South African game, playing more than 10 years in Europe for various Italian and English clubs.
He is exceptional at running the lineout, in the way of Victor Matfield, and with the 35-year-old now having taken over this role from the injured Pieter-Steph du Toit, coach Gary Gold might not want to deflect his focus from this crucial job by giving him the captaincy.
A better bet, given that this is a one-off job, is look to a player such as Kankowski, who has a fairly uncluttered role at No 8. He has played 101 matches at Super Rugby level, is in good form, does not have an undisciplined bone in his body, and will relish the responsibility given to him.
By Martin Myers