With two matches to go until the Currie Cup semifinals, no team is better placed than the Sharks for the final mad burst down the home straight.
Mike Greenaway writes in the Cape Times that the Durbanites are three points clear at the top of the table, they have excellent depth in every position and are in good form, and now it is time for the players to move up a gear, says Sharks coach John Plumtree.
“Yeah, we are very pleased with where we are, and we have worked hard to get into this position, but from now on, every player must deliver his very best game each week,” he said. “There can be no falling off in form because we need to take our game to a new level.”
The most important aspect for the Sharks ahead of the upcoming play-offs is that they are very much playing as a team.
“The players are believing in themselves and trusting each other,” says Plumtree. “They know they have the ability and that they are all playing good rugby, and that collective belief is very powerful.”
The Sharks had hoped for a convincing performance on Saturday against the Valke in Kempton Park, and although they battled in the end to win 44-19, their coach is not overly stressed. “You always want to play well, obviously, but this game turned out to be one of those difficult affairs where you just want to get out of town with the points,” Plumtree said.
“For a number of reasons, it was a stop-start affair that never really got going.
“We wanted to play at pace, but could not get much momentum because the stoppages kept coming. There were penalties, injuries, yellow cards, players changing their shorts, their boots, you name it!
“And the conditions did not help. The pitch was rock hard and the wind was very strong,” the coach continued. “The dust was hectic and in the change room afterwards the players looked like they had been out on the town all night, their eyes were that red!”
Plumtree and his coaching staff should be commended for the way they have managed their Springboks since the end of the Tri-Nations, playing them mostly off the bench.
This strategy has had the dual effect of refreshing the Boks and rewarding the players that did so well in pulling the Sharks together after their poor start to the Currie Cup.
The overall result is a squad of hungry players, with no player assured of a starting place. “We have some selection headaches this week ahead of the Lions match, and it will mean that we have a very strong bench and that a few very good players will miss out. But, at the end of the day, the team is all that counts,” the coach said.
For the Sharks, remaining unbeaten will mean the princely reward of finishing top of the log and guaranteed home-ground advantage in both the semi-final and final (should they get there). But between the Sharks and that top spot stand the Lions.
“They are a side we know pretty well, having played them three times in the Currie Cup last year,” Plumtree said.
“We respect them for their big forward pack, for their loose trio that is very good at stealing ball, for a flyhalf in Earl Rose who can break a game open, and because of the return to the team of Jaque Fourie (from injury). He will give them stability and experience in the backline.”
The Lions will be playing for a place in the semi-finals, the Sharks for their No 1 spot on the log. It should be a classic.Tweet