Craig Jamieson, who led the Natal to their first Currie Cup-title win in 1990, believes that coach John Plumtree will take the Sharks to victory in the final against the Blue Bulls at King’s Park on Saturday.
John Bishop writes in the Witness that coach Ian McIntosh and Jamieson plotted the downfall of the Blue Bulls (formerly Northern Transvaal) in the final of 1990 at Loftus. The monumental upset gave Natal their first Currie Cup title in their centenary year and Jamieson believes that Plumtree has created a similar environment within the current squad.
“Plum is a humble guy who focuses on the game and does not get caught up in all the sideshows and razzamatazz which go with a Currie Cup final.”
He cites the 1993 and 1999 finals – both lost by the Natal Sharks – as instances when players took their eyes off the ball. In 1993, an immensely talented but greedy Natal side went looking for more final tickets – and became involved in an undignified squabble with officials – and were beaten by Francois Pienaar’s Transvaal at King’s Park; six years later the Sharks went down in an emotional final which served as a farewell to McIntosh, Gary Teichmann, Andre Joubert and Henry Honiball.
“There is no talk of any distractions this year and Plum has moulded players who are supporting each other into a happy team.
“He has brought the passion back into Sharks rugby, the self-interest seems to have gone and they are performing out on the field rather than worrying about their pay cheque at the end of the month.”
Managed the squad sensibly
Jamieson said it was the positive mood in the squad which carried the 1990 team to glory.
“Mac (Ian McIntosh) probably had it easier because it was before the age of professional rugby and there were not as many distractions. But Plum has managed the squad sensibly, keeping the players level-headed while restoring pride in the jersey. He must take a lot of credit.”
Jamieson said the composition of the Sharks squad was also important.
Plumtree also had the right pedigree for the job, Jamieson said.
“People think of Plum as a coach who spent some years playing for Natal.
But he has the experience of playing and coaching in New Zealand and Wales.
He knows what he wants from a team and what is needed to be successful.
“Off the field he wants a happy team working together for the jersey; on the field he wants a solid pack of forwards to lay the platform.”
While Jamieson thinks the Sharks will win, he believes it will another tight contest.
“You know these finals, they are almost 50:50 games, and the side that retains its focus on attack and defence will win. It is a case of taking your scoring chances and limiting the damage when you are under pressure. And believe me there will be pressure on both sides.
“The Sharks have the advantage of a dream reserve bench but that will only be a factor if Plum uses his replacements at the right time – as he has for most of the season.
“It is a final which I think the Sharks can win and will win…but it will not be easy.”