The Sharks not only ended the month on top of the Absa Currie Cup log, but the Durban-based side’s star scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and head coach John Plumtree also finished September in first place as they walked off with the Player and the Coach of the Month Awards, respectively.
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Springbok ace Pienaar – back starting in his favoured No.9 shirt – was the unanimous choice of the eight Absa Currie Cup coaches around the country as September’s Absa Currie Cup Player of the Month, after an outstanding month directing traffic at the base of the table-topping Sharks scrum.
Plumtree, meanwhile, was a popular choice as the season’s third Absa Currie Cup Coach of the Month after guiding the Sharks to successive wins over the Vodacom Blue Bulls, the Vodacom Free State Cheetahs, the Valke and the Xerox Lions during September.
Pienaar and Plumtree were each rewarded with R10,000 in prize money, whilst they were also presented with exclusive miniature replicas of the Absa Currie Cup trophy.
The Coach of the Month is voted for by a five-man panel of top media personalities in South Africa, whilst all eight coaches in the Absa Currie Cup were once again asked to nominate their Player of the Month for September – as they did in July and August and as they will be asked to do until the end of this season in October.
The coaches were asked to nominate additional players this month, with Jean Deysel (August’s Player of the Month), Keegan Daniel, Cobus Grobbelaar, Jongi Nokwe and Gurthro Steenkamp all being mentioned as form players. However, in the final analysis, Pienaar picked up five votes overall, with Bulls pair Morne Steyn and Wynand Olivier and towering Vodacom WP lock Andries Bekker next best on the list of nominated players.
“It’s a great honour to win this award,” said Pienaar, “but there were a host of other players in the country who could’ve won it, too, so I’m just very, very happy to have been recognised.
“On a personal level, I had a disappointing Super 14, so this award aside, I’m just glad to be out there playing 80 minutes every week and I’m loving every minute of it.”
Pienaar, 24, also alluded to the “fantastic team spirit” in the Sharks squad, adding: “There is plenty of competition for starting places, but the guys are always willing each other on and I guess it’s a nice headache for the coach too! Everyone has a smile on his face at training and that makes it a pleasure to train and then to run out there representing the Sharks come the weekend.”
Coach Plumtree, meanwhile, is hoping to bring the Absa Currie Cup trophy back to Durban for the first time since 1996. The Durbanites have played in four finals since that last triumph, but they have looked in fine form this season; winning 11 from 13 matches thus far and scoring 384 points in the process.
Sunday Times sports editor Clinton van den Berg – one of five members of the well-respected media voting panel – explained his rationale behind choosing Plumtree as his Coach of the Month.
“I was impressed by the way he worked his Springboks back into the provincial mould,” explained Van den Berg. “He did not rush his players back; he gave a couple of them a week off and then started them off the bench, gradually.
“He also made the call on Ruan Pienaar’s position, playing him at number nine where he belongs. Of course, going through the month unbeaten also helped his cause somewhat!”
Van den Berg’s fellow panelists were once again David O’Sullivan (Rugga Zone host), SuperSport analyst and commentator Owen Nkumane, senior Rapport journalist JJ Harmse and Mtutuzeli Scott (SABC radio commentator).
Plumtree – who hails from New Zealand, but played for the then Natal Sharks as a hard-working flanker – was understandably delighted with his award, but he was quick to doff his cap at his support staff at the Absa Stadium.
“It’s a nice little surprise, this award, it’s nice to be recognised,” said Plumtree, “(but) I’m simply taking credit for all the hard work put in by my fantastic management team and my players.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the tournament, with the semifinals just around the corner, the 43-year-old Sharks coach added: “I still think we can improve our defence, and there are constantly other aspects of our game to work on, but you need a pretty strong all-round game in order to win the Absa Currie Cup.
“At this stage we can’t look too far ahead, there’s still plenty of rugby to be played and some pretty tough teams out there waiting for us.”Tweet