Sharks coach John Plumtree, despite reports that he is leaving the franchise and planning to return to his native New Zealand, is focused only on the imminent Super 14 campaign writes Craig Ray for The Times. Plum, as he’s affectionately known by his players, has provided structure and instilled discipline at the Sharks – attributes that took them to the 2008 Currie Cup title.
But the elusive Super Rugby crown is the most sought-after commodity in Durban, and that’s what the coach desperately wants to deliver this year.
The Sharks have lost three finals since the tournament’s inception in 1996, easily making them South Africa’s most consistent performers. But being the bridesmaid is not enough. It’s time to walk down the aisle as the bride.
“We’ve taken a long, hard look at ourselves and attempted to identify what we need to do to win,” Plumtree told The Times.
“We need to be ambitious as a group because we know the challenge we have with the difficult tour that we face early in the tournament. The team has to remain positive and most of the guys are experienced players who are used to touring, so there shouldn’t be any surprises.
“If we can have a little bit of luck, and keep everyone fit, we should have a good chance. There is always so much expectation around us every year but that’s something I want because it says a lot about your squad.
“I don’t worry about the external pressure because it’s about preparing as well as you can. There are going to be some hiccups and setbacks along the way but I expect that, so we have as good a chance as anybody this year.”
The team was dealt a severe blow when Argentine flyhalf Juan Hernandez was ruled out of the campaign with a back injury.
Bok flyhalf Ruan Pienaar is still some way off full fitness after his knee operation, and Plumtree is scouting for another pivot to join Monty Dumond in the squad. Former Sharks player Steven Meyer is apparently one target, though the coach wouldn’t confirm it.
“A player like Juan is world-class and the fact that he’s in such a crucial position makes it an even more massive blow to us,” Plumtree said.
“The Super 14 is very important to us and the draw we have this year has made it tougher. But we’ll just have to get on with it and fill that hole.
“Ruan [Pienaar] is still not running and is busy building up the muscle in his leg after the operation, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be ready for the start of the tournament. We’re looking at a couple of players overseas.”
The Sharks are in Cape Town this week to prepare for a triangular warm-up tournament against the Stormers and Western Force. Plumtree played down initial expectations.
“We have 28 players for the triangular with the Stormers and Force, and all of them will be used,” he said. “It would be great to start the tournament with continuity but we’ve been working hard on conditioning and sacrificing teamwork at this stage.
“That was always the plan because there were a few players coming back from injury, and others who needed to become fitter, and we will pay a price for that to begin with.
“On the positive side, I hope that by the time we play our first warm-up matches we’ll have a 99% fit squad.”Tweet