Rugby: White stamps his mark on Sharks

By Mike Greenaway

Ryan Kankowski gets to start at No 8 against the Bulls in a stand-out first game selection.

What Ryan Kankowski brings is a game-breaker, and a playerwho can outrun the sloths the Bulls have picked. Picture / Getty Images
What Ryan Kankowski brings is a game-breaker, and a playerwho can outrun the sloths the Bulls have picked. Picture / Getty Images

If ever we needed reminding that there has been a change of guard at the Sharks, it was confirmed when new coach Jake White picked Ryan Kankowski to start at No 8 against the Bulls tomorrow, the same player who White's predecessor deemed surplus to requirements in 2013.

Last year, John Plumtree told Kankowski that he was out of shape and out of form after returning from Japan, and excluded him from the Sharks' Super Rugby squad, but White clearly has his own thoughts on the subject of the elusive runner, and only days after Kankowski's most recent (and final) return from Japan.

White has surprised the rugby world by picking the Port Elizabeth product ahead of some illustrious teammates.

Good on Jake. Kankowski is a game-breaker, and a player who can outrun the sloths that the Bulls have picked in a forward combination that is more about brawn than agility. Plumtree said Kankowski was no good, White has picked him to start.

It is the stand-out selection in a Sharks run-on team that boasts 11 Springboks. And it is a team that White has picked to beat the Bulls in a Super Rugby opening round encounter that could set the Sharks on course on their bid to top the SA Conference.

White said he had picked his team on its merits and not because of the anticipated strengths of the Bulls. He evoked the words of Chinese author Sun Tzu, who wrote The Art of War. "I have seen the Bulls team," the Sharks coach said. "They have picked the biggest team they can. They have decided to react to the team they expected us to put on the field. As Sun Tzu said: It is simple. If the enemy react to you, you are in a position of strength. If you react to the enemy you are in a position of weakness.

"If the Bulls have reacted to what they thought we would pick, the first play is ours ... And that is the exciting thing about this weekend."

White said that the run-on team had more or less picked itself but that he had a number of selection quandaries. "There are headaches because we have such a talented squad," he said.

"There are expectations on us and people call it pressure. There are just different kinds of pressure. When you have a young team, the pressure is about whether you can maintain the whole season and be competitive with young players.

"When you inherit a squad with great players and attendant reputations, such as this one, then the pressure is different because everybody expects you to win.

"That is part of coaching and I am enjoying the pressure on me to pick the right team," White said. "But I also enjoy the pressure on the fringe players to try and make the team. That is fantastic because there are a lot of players desperate to fight their way into the team."

White said he had tasked each member of the 39-strong squad he announced this week with targeting a place in the Super Rugby final on August 2. "This is a long tournament. The final is in August and we start in mid-February. I know from my experience last year with the Brumbies, we need every player to be on song. Some will miss week one, but the challenge is how hard they work hard with the goal of hopefully being involved on August 2."

What does White expect from the Bulls? "You know what they are going to do," he said. "They have been doing it for years. I can't believe they will move away from what has worked for them in the past."

South Africa has scrapped its Super Rugby relegation process and the country's five teams in the tournament will remain there for the next two seasons. That means the Port Elizabeth-based Southern Kings can't regain their Super 15 place until after 2015.

Instead, the South African Rugby Union says the Kings have been guaranteed a place in the top division of the domestic Currie Cup.

Super Rugby's format is likely to be revised from 2016, when South Africa may get a permanent extra spot for the Kings.

-Independent

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