Sharks’ forward resources tested with two Boks on injured list
Mbonambi and Koch still sidelined as they recover from World Cup setbacks
The light at the end of the tunnel in terms of returning cavalry for the beleaguered Sharks turned out to be a bit of a mirage with the confirmation that two key Springboks have been ruled out with injuries.
Sharks head coach John Plumtree confirmed on Wednesday that Vincent Koch has been ruled out for three months due to the knee injury that prevented him from playing in the Rugby World Cup final.
Worse news 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.
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 at 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 as the Durban franchise is struggling with injuries up front.
Gerbrandt Grobler, arguably the Sharks’ best lock behind Eben Etzebeth, was ruled out after breaking his arm in a preseason game. Le Roux Roets is also on the injured list.
The good news for the Sharks is that at least Etzebeth looks likely to play once the Bok 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 Corné 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 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,” said Plumtree.
“My son Taine, who is ... playing in Wales, is 23 and he is still raw and far from the finished product.”
The loss of Koch until February is problematic for the Sharks in the sense that the former Stormers player was recruited to off-set the loss of Thomas du Toit to English club Bath.
The Sharks were often a 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.
Plumtree will be getting one Bok back for the weekend’s first home game of the 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 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, with World Cup player Grant Williams also in the reckoning.
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