The Bulls’ call to turn down the Sharks’ request to field two of their Springbok props caused huge drama in the lead-up to the Rainbow Cup fixture between the two teams on Saturday.
Before the start of the tournament, the four participating teams had reached an agreement that every one of their players selected in the Bok squad would have to sit out a Rainbow Cup match.
Heading into the final round of matches, Sharks props Ox Nche and Thomas du Toit, who both made the 46-man national squad, had not yet taken the mandatory one-week off, forcing the Durban side to rest the duo in their crucial fixture against the Bulls.
However, a spate of injuries to several front rowers and two Covid-19 contact situations had left the Sharks desperate to select Nche and Du Toit in their matchday squad.
The Sharks sent a request to SA Rugby, asking permission to play Nche and Du Toit. The Stormers and Lions agreed to the special dispensation, but the Bulls objected and the request was thus denied.
This forced the Sharks to withdraw the two players before kick-off in a match they ultimately lost 34-22.
‘We had a challenging week choosing a team, particularly in the front row where we’ve had many injuries,’ Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee said in a media release before the game.
‘Unfortunately, just before the game, our request [to SA Rugby and the Bulls] was denied by the Bulls and that has necessitated some last-minute changes that we’ve had to make.’
Speaking after the game, Sharks coach Sean Everitt said that the late withdrawals were disruptive.
‘I thought the guys that stood in, at the last minute, did really well,’ Everitt told a virtual post-match media briefing.
‘Khuthazani Mchunu has just come off a six-week injury, drove down [to Durban] from Bloemfontein, started the game and had to play the full 80 minutes.
‘The is massive guts. At the Sharks, we pride ourselves on the effort and the courage the guys show on the field and that is a true example of that.’
Everitt was reluctant to go into the boardroom wrangling that caused the late changes, saying it is a subject for the administrators to take up.
‘I am a rugby coach and I focus on the job at hand.
‘We did have a problem at tighthead, with Wiehahn [Herbst] – who had a back spasm last week and then had a COVID-contact.
‘Rassie [Erasmus, South Africa’s Director of Rugby] left it up to the CEOs to agree that we could have Ox [Retshegofaditswe Nche] and Thomas [du Toit] on the bench.
‘At late notice, there was an objection [from the Bulls] and they had to be withdrawn.
‘We respect the national cause, but we genuinely had a problem today [Saturday],’ Everitt said.
Photo: Gallo Images