A tough choice at 10

If rugby fans think British & Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan has a tough choice when it comes to choosing his Test fly-half to play South Africa, spare a thought for opposite number Peter de Villiers. [more]

A tough choice at 10

If rugby fans think British & Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan has a tough choice when it comes to choosing his Test fly-half to play South Africa, spare a thought for opposite number Peter de Villiers.

While McGeechan has to choose between the flair of Hook, the dependability and experience of O’Gara or Jones, the relatively untested exuberance of Godman or Flood, or the hit and miss talents of Cipriani, de Villiers is left with a toughie: ‘Do I give the No 10 jersey to my scrum-half or my inside centre?’

Sharks duo Ruan Pienaar and Francois Steyn both have their eyes on the Springbok pivot’s jersey – last worn against the Lions by Henry Honiball and Jannie de Beer.

And this Saturday is a chance for both coaches to cast their eye over Pienaar as he starts at fly-half for the Sharks’ trip to Cape Town to play the Stormers in their Super 14 opener.

New Sharks coach John Plumtree has selected Steyn at No12, but the floppy-haired dropped-goal expert has made it clear he sees his future one position closer to the pack.

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And with Pienaar widely recognised as one of the best scrum-halves in the game, de Villiers can accommodate both of them if he so chooses.

Bath’s Butch James has thrown his name into the ring – a few months after saying he wouldn’t be involved against the Lions – but South African rugby pundits think it’s a direct choice between the two Sharks players.

And if the Sharks are to finally throw off their tag of perennial bridesmaids, you get the feeling that Pienaar has to produce a series of match-winning performances.

The Sharks are easily South Africa’s most successful franchise, although Bulls fans will point to their last-gasp 2007 title win and argue the point. Sharks fans will then point to how many times the great-on-paper, rubbish-on-grass Bulls have finished last and so on…

The Sharks have made the semi-finals six times, going on to reach three finals… before losing the lot. In 1996, they were thumped 45-21 by the Auckland Blues in the final, before an even more embarrassing 36-6 mauling at the hands of the Brumbies in 2001.

In 2007, they were leading the Bulls 19-13 with no time left on the clock, but then inexplicably gave Bryan Habana some space. Ten seconds later, Derick Hougaard was kicking the match-winning conversion.

The bookies have made the Sharks third favourites to win this season’s Super 14 – behind champions Crusaders and last year’s runners-up Hurricanes. And with John Smit and Ryan Kankowski leading a no-nonsense pack, Pienaar pulling the strings, Steyn dropping the goals and Odwa Ndungane and J P Pietersen scoring the tries, this may just be the Year of the Shark.

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