Sharks head coach John Plumtree believes that the harsh lessons of last year will fire up the squad for the Super 14 which starts against the Chiefs at King’s Park on Saturday night.
John Bishop writes for Sport24.
Plumtree said the squad had prepared well for the new season but the failures of last year – the Sharks were in pole positions in both the Super 14 and the Currie Cup and then went walkabout – were still fresh in the mind.
“We are all excited about the new season and have toned down the intensity in training this week to save the legs,” he said.
“The systems are in place and we have tweaked a few things but the Super 14 remains a big challenge. We know we let ourselves down last year when we worked hard to get into good positions and then failed to produce. That has galvanised us and we hope the players have learnt and we will see a different edge to the players, not just on Saturday but right through the season.”
Plumtree said the Sharks had a talented squad “if the players and the team play to their potential.”
Apart from new signing, fullback Louis Ludik, everyone is fit for selection, he said.
The return of Ruan Pienaar, over his knee surgery, is a massive boost but he has had no pre-season rugby and it is likely that he will be named on the bench with scrumhalf Rory Kockott and flyhalf Steve Meyer starting at halfback.
Plumtree praised the influence which captain John Smit was having on the squad.
“He demands so much of himself and the team and we have a really good working relationship.”
Plumtree said that the Bok captain is aware that he is in the final two years of his career.
“He knows what’s on the line this year and that there aren’t too many chances left to win the Super 14 trophy so he’ll put it all in leading the troops for 80 minutes.”
The Sharks coach again emphasised the importance of earning bonus points by scoring four tries.
“We’ve talked about it and we have let ourselves down in the past. Getting four tries in the humidity in Durban in February will not be easy and we may have to be more tactical and mix it up a bit in these early games because the ball is really slippery.
“But we have to be brave and ambitious in our decision-making. The Chiefs won the same number of games as us last and then made the play-offs because of bonus points.”
Plumtree said the Chiefs, who were beaten by the Bulls in the final of the Super 14 last year, would challenge the Sharks across the park.
“They have always had brilliant, entertaining backs and last year they got to the final and you can’t do that without a good pack. They are usually slow starters in this competition but the success of last year will have given them confidence. They will be looking to start strongly on tour to set themselves up for a good season.”
Plumtree believes the changing approach to the laws – governing the breakdown and off-side in chasing kicks – should provide more of a spectacle though the humid Durban conditions will make it difficult for players to hold on to the ball.
While the two pre-season friendly defeats had provided the Sharks’ critics with ammunition, Plumtree said they had also helped in sorting out a number of problems.
“People are making a song and dance about our scrum, so we’ve got to show them different,” he added.
“There is an excitement and determination in the squad. We started so well last year but when things went pear-shaped, we didn’t know how to react.
“Last year, without the depth, we couldn’t rotate the players. This year I feel we do have the necessary options and that creates hunger within the team and I hope the competition will see us through.”
Plumtree should know by tonight whether burly number eight Willem Alberts and Ludik are Sharks or Lions players. The SA Rugby Union hearing into the dispute over their contracts takes place at Newlands this morning.
The physical Alberts, if he is cleared, will challenge the more athletic Ryan Kankowski for the Sharks’ number eight spot while Ludik, returning from knee surgery, is a couple of weeks from full fitness.
Saturday’s opener kicks off at 19:10.Tweet