I feel that, with all the inevitable speculation about semifinal permutations and the Sharks’ potential semi-final opponents, the Sharks really do need to close their ears to all the talk and concentrate on what’s best for the team.
Fact is, the Sharks have done utterly superbly to sew up top spot on the log with only a week to play. John Plumtree has used his resources wisely and despite not always having the best squad on paper, has played a style of rugby that has seen his team maintain pole position throughout the second round of matches. More importantly, the number of try bonus points scored has ensured that even though the Sharks have lost more matches in this campaign than they have in any of the previous years they’ve topped the log (this is the third year in a row), they will end it with a bigger buffer than before. Simply remarkable.
The plan was always going to be “careful player management” in the final week, if the Sharks were to be in this position. The prospect of a semi-final against the Bulls, likely to finish fourth of Western Province do beat the Sharks this weekend, may have tempted Plumtree to reconsider and play his strongest side at Newlands, but my feeling is that he must make whatever decision is best in the interests of the Sharks. Right now, a number of senior players have carried a very heavy work load and if we are not to risk them breaking down during the knock out phases, they simply have to be given a break this weekend. The Sharks, I feel, have more than enough depth and talent in their squad to name a side for this weekend’s game that can beat Province, even without battle-weary stalwarts of the likes of Keegan Daniel, Willem Alberts and Steven Sykes. Ultimately, though, this weekend’s game means little for the Sharks – that is their luxury and that is their prize.
The Sharks have finished first and are the best team in the country right now – they also have a slew of top players coming back from the Boks and really don’t need to fear anyone, least of all the Bulls who haven’t played truly impressive rugby at any stage of their campaign. Plumtree must manage the players as he sees fit and take the most appropriate team to Cape Town, to have a full go at beating Western Province, but know that win or lose, his team will have the last laugh. Let’s leave the semi-final concerns for the week afterwards and back a strengthened and rested Sharks team to emerge victorious in Durban on 16 October, regardless of which shade of blue the opposition happens to be wearing.Tweet