The Sharks have already clinched a Currie Cup semifinal spot at the Shark Tank, but coach John Plumtree insists that his team will not relax their intensity until the season is over.
Phil Coetzer reports for www.rugby365.com.
Plumtree revealed that his Sharks team, who are favourites to finish the regular Currie Cup season at the top of the points table, were not about to rest on their laurels this close to the knock-out stages.
In fact, Plumtree is planning on keeping up the momentum by picking a full-strength side for their final round-robin match against Griquas in Durban on Saturday, unlike their main rivals for the Currie Cup trophy, the Blue Bulls, who have opted to rest key players ahead of the semifinals by picking a second-string squad to play the Falcons.
“We won’t be resting players at this stage of the competition. We want to maintain maximum stability in terms of selection,” Plumtree told rugby365.com on Tuesday.
“Some of our players were rested three to four weeks ago. Guys like Ruan [Pienaar] and Frans [Steyn] haven’t had lots of rugby in the Tri-Nations. Adi Jacobs had a break recently, and so has Bismarck [du Plessis].
“We’re keen to get them playing, and they’re keen to play.”
When asked about his assessment of the 2008 Sharks, the coach insisted that the season cannot be considered a success before it is complete.
“We’re still one game away from getting into those semifinals. We obviously have a tough tie against Griquas to negotiate,” Plumtree said.
“We’ll reflect on our season at the end of the year, not now. It is too early to label ourselves a success at the moment.
“I’m certainly happy with the way things have gone, but we’re not done yet.
“With regards to injuries, we’re not in bad shape at the moment. There are one or two niggles within the squad at the moment, but it’s really not bad for this stage of the season. We’re actually looking pretty good to be honest.”
The Sharks all but sealed top spot on the table when they overcame the Lions 34-20 in Johannesburg last Saturday.
“It was a mixed performance against the Lions, I thought. I was happy with some of it, but at the same time not so happy with some other aspects,” revealed the Kiwi coach.
“The first half was pretty loose, and we didn’t do ourselves justice. The boys did manage to tighten it up in the second half, and we capitalised on some of the Lions mistakes. That enabled us to get away from them.”
The Lions managed to put some pressure on the Sharks, and were in a healthy position at half-time. But an error-strewn second half performance by the Gautengers, with flyhalf Earl Rose the chief villain, allowed the Sharks to score two soft tries to seal the contest in their favour.
Rose has received plenty of criticism for his performance, but Plumtree stepped in to defend the playmaker.
“It must be remembered that Earl Rose has won lots of games as well for the Lions playing that type of game,” said the Sharks mentor.
“He’s a creator, someone who plays instinctively. Things don’t always go perfectly right though, and there were a couple of things he would have been disappointed with.
“But these type of games are all about pressure and how it is built up, and the way players react to that. I think it’s pretty harsh to blame him [Rose] for the Lions’ loss.”
There is always plenty of talk and conjecture about the possible match-ups at the play-off stages of the Currie Cup, and it is still not certain who the Sharks will face in their home semifinal.
However, Plumtree is not phased by possibles and probables, and feels that it is a pointless exercise to try and look for a preferred opponent.
“There isn’t a particular team that we’d prefer to play in the knock-out stages. No matter who we play, they are all good teams, who will be tough opponents.
“There is no such thing as an easy semifinal. Who we play is irrelevant – we’ll just worry about ourselves. We have lots of respect for all the teams that make it into the play-offs.”
Western Province will of course face the Lions this Saturday in a match that will most likely produce the last semifinalist.
With the Cheetahs seemingly odds-on to qualify for the semis with a very likely bonus-point home win against lowly Boland, Western Province will need to overcome the Lions by at least 19 points, while scoring four tries of their own and preventing the Gautengers from getting a bonus point.
Plumtree looked ahead to the game, and hinted that Province had a very daunting task ahead of them.
“I think the game will be very tough for Province. The Lions are a good side this year, and they have plenty to play for.
“I would normally back Western Province, but I rate the Lions forward pack very highly. It will certainly be an interesting encounter.
“The result will be very close. I think it’s going to be a pretty even game.”Tweet