DURBAN – The most notable departure from the Sharks team that led Super Rugby before the national lockdown in March has to be blockbusting centre Andre Esterhuizen, who at 1.94m and 115kg is also the most noticeable.
Esterhuizen, 26, had been at the Sharks since finishing school in Klerksdorp in 2012, but after 98 games in the black and white he has opted for a change of scenery provided by Harlequins in the English Premiership.
The departure of the “The Giant,” as he was simply but tellingly nicknamed by his Sharks teammates, quite literally leaves a big gap for coach Sean Everitt to fill when rugby in South Africa resumes this weekend.
Esterhuizen, an eight-cap Springbok, is obviously a powerful ball carrier and a devastating tackler but he will also be missed at the Sharks because of his booming left boot that was often used for clearances, and then also for his respected leadership – he has a strong presence and his experience gave him the wisdom to call the shots in the backline.
For Everitt, finding a replacement for Esterhuizen with similar physical dimensions is not going to happen but the coach does have quality candidates who can play a similar game.
In Jeremy Ward and Marius Louw, Everitt has two No 12s who have been bubbling under, taking turns to deputise for Esterhuizen, and now they are in a tussle for the full-time job.
Over the next month or so, Everitt will be giving opportunities to both of them and one of them needs to step up and take ownership of the jersey.
Both are 24-years-old strong tacklers and runners. Louw, once a flank at Grey College in Bloemfontein, has played 44 times for the Sharks, split between Super Rugby and the Currie Cup. Ward, from Grey High in Port Elizabeth has 43 Sharks caps, with a similar mix of appearances.
Which one of the two will step up to be the regular partner to outside centre and captain Lukhanyo Am (or Werner Kok who is shaping up to be the backup to Am at No 13)?
Ward has proven leadership skills – he led the SA Under-20 team with distinction in 2016 – and probably has the inside track, but Louw is a fighter and will know that Esterhuizen’s exit has given him the chance to nail a starting spot after being on the fringe for so long.