As far as Super 14 road trips go, the Sharks have got it pretty good in 2009, with fixtures against the beatable Chiefs, Blues, Reds and Western Force, but they are expecting a hot reception in Hamilton this week for the tour opener.
“It is going to be a huge match for the Chiefs,” coach John Plumtree said on Saturday night after his team’s 25-10 win against the Lions.
“It is their first home game and they need to get winning after two defeats (away to the Crusaders and Waratahs), while we will be battling to get over our long journey.”
Mike Greenaway writes in The Mercury that the following week, the Sharks hit the Blues at home for the first time after their opening sequence of matches in Perth, Pretoria and Cape Town.
“Obviously, the Blues will want to kick off their home run on the right note and they will be tougher because they will have a number of players returning from injury,” Plumtree noted.
“Those are very tricky matches, and winning in New Zealand is never easy, but there is nothing we should be afraid of as long as we perform well,” the coach said.
The Sharks then head for Brisbane before finishing off in Perth.
“It helps that we are working our way from the furthest point away from home to the closest over the month. In 2008 we travelled backwards and forwards across the Tasman, which can be tiring, and also had the extra game (five tour matches),” Plumtree said.
“And in getting away from the heat of Durban by touring early, we also enjoy the better New Zealand weather.
“So we are fortunate with this tour, but the trick now is to make it count. You can have everything in the world in your favour but it means absolutely nothing if you don’t perform.”
On the subject of the Lions game, Plumtree was rueful that his team did not add the bonus point to the win.
“We must have broken the line 15 times and should have turned that into more points than we did.
“But then there were also factors beyond our control. The Lions killed a lot of ball at the breakdown, which we were not happy about.”
“I was proud of the guys, though. Those conditions are not for rugby.
“It is hard for people to appreciate just how tough it is to play in them. And that was a big Lions pack.
‘So all in all, it was a pretty good performance. It is a bit of a disappointment that we did not get the extra point, but to go on tour with eight from two games is not bad at all.”
Plumtree said that he was very pleased with the way his pack had scrummed against the vaunted Lions unit.
The Sharks initially took a bit of strain but got better and better and, in the end, were destroying the Lions scrum.
“Our set pieces in general were good,” Plumtree said.
“We have to just keep on polishing them. One thing I was not that happy with was our defence.
“We have to tighten up on that on this tour.”
Plumtree is also looking for refinement on tour of the vital axis from No 8 through 9 and 10 to 12.
“I thought Ruan Pienaar (10) and Francois Steyn (12) had good games and there is every reason to believe all those combinations will improve the longer they play together.
“At the moment we are lacking some accuracy in those areas, but the important thing is that we are getting better.
“The thing is, our players get excited about attacking. I want them to get excited about defence and the set pieces, too. Because if we get our basics right, then we can beat anyone.”
The 26-man Sharks squad that left for New Zealand on Sunday comprised the match 22 that played against the Lions plus fit-again Waylon Murray and Albert van den Berg, and flank Skholiwe Ndlovu and hooker Skipper Badenhorst.
Sharks tour squad
Skipper Badenhorst, Jacques Botes, Deon Carstens, Ross Cronje, Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Alistair Hargreaves, Adrian Jacobs, Ryan Kankowski, Rory Kockott, Tendai Mtawarira, Johann Muller, Waylon Murray, Skholiwe Ndlovu, Odwa Ndungane, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, John Smit, Francois Steyn, Riaan Swanepoel, Steven Sykes, Stefan Terblanche, Albert van den Berg, Luzuko VulindluTweet