But as the news of Pat Lambie’s campaign-ending bicep injury, which requires surgery and rehab of six months, dealt Jake White’s men a substantial blow, so did Zeilinga’s own prospects rise.
The 21-year-old pivot is now understood to be in White’s sights, who admitted that he’ll now “have a chance”.
Off-season recruit Tim Swiel deputised for Lambie during the Bulls game last weekend, but Zeilinga’s relatively superior pedigree of controlling things well in the title-winning domestic campaign of 2013 should count heavily in his favour. Frans Steyn is also an option but national interest would dictate he stays in the midfield.
Regardless of whom White eventually picks, it’s difficult to dispute fullback SP Marais’ view that the Sharks still have superior depth to many other sides.
“It’s unfortunate to lose players of that quality, but it’s an opportunity for other players to prove themselves,” he said.
“And this is Super Rugby where we have great depth in our squad. It will be tested, but I think we’ve got good enough cover. We have flyhalves in Tim Swiel, in Fred Zeilinga, who was Vodacom Cup Player-of-the-Year last year and was nominated as Currie Cup Player-of-the-Year. I don’t think we’re concerned about it. We’re all professional athletes here and we all need to slot in when it matters. So it’s not a big fuss.”
The case isn’t so clear cut when it comes to Cobus Reinach’s hand injury, which will see him out for two months. Experienced Charl McLeod is the only other scrumhalf that was included in the final squad and means that Vodacom Cup rookie Stefan Ungerer will most likely get elevated.