Sharks' unsung hero Venter ticking the right boxes
Cape Town - They are only two matches into their Super Rugby season, but already the Sharks have made headlines for all the right reasons.
Wins over the Bulls (23-15) at Kings Park and then a stunning 42-20 triumph over the Highlanders in Dunedin have left the Sharks perched near the top of the table heading into Saturday's clash against the Hurricanes in Wellington.
The men stealing those headlines have predominantly been in the backline where Aphelele Fassi and Makazole Mapimpi are in superb attacking form. Skipper Lukhanyo Am and flyhalf Curwin Bosch, who is unavailable for the Hurricanes, have also commanded attention.
One man who has slipped under the radar somewhat, despite scoring a try against the Highlanders, is 23-year-old No 6 James Venter.
Born in Durban and having started his youth career at the Sharks, Venter had been with the Lions in Johannesburg since 2015 until he was unveiled as the first of nine signings in nine days by the Sharks back in September last year.
Far from the most high-profile of the signings, which also included Ox Nche, Henco Venter, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Werner Kok, Venter was quickly identified by new coach Sean Everitt as a specialist fetcher.
It is a role that Everitt has openly said he values, and he has even compared Venter to former Sharks flank Marcell Coetzee.
While it is still early days, Venter's contribution over the opening two rounds has been immense despite most of the hype centring around the scintillating backline tries that have been scored.
"He got the first steal of the game," Everitt recalled this week, looking back at Venter's performance in Dunedin.
"James has been outstanding in the way he's played and it's not easy to play like that for 80 minutes.
"He's such a player that we haven't looked to take him off. He's really disrupted the breakdown and when he's not stealing ball, he's making good tackles and he's doing a lot of carry work."
The challenge on Saturday in Wellington will be stronger, with the Hurricanes coming off the back of a gritty win against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.
Venter, though, says it has been refreshing having the freedom to do what he does best.
"It's great to be back in an awesome environment surrounded by some of the world's best players. I'm just relishing the opportunity to grow as a player," he said.
"That's what you relish in a game ... the breakdown and the physical aspect.
"Getting out there and forcing turnovers is the game that I enjoy playing, so it's awesome to be able to do that where your natural game actually complements what Sean (Everitt) wants."
Venter will line up alongside blindside flank Tyler Paul and Notshe at No 8 to complete the loose trio.
Kick-off on Saturday is at 08:05 (SA time).
15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 TJ Perenara (captain), 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Gareth Evans, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Fraser Armstrong
Substitutes: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Pouri Rakete-Stones, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Liam Mitchell, 20 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Billy Proctor
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Boeta Chamberlain, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Le Roux Roets, 20 Dylan Richardson, 21 Phepsi Buthelezi, 22 Sanele Nohamba, 23 Jeremy Ward