Let’s take a quick look at one of the clashes of the weekend at Kings Park where the misfiring Sharks, coming from a bye, take on the unpredictable Highlanders. I use the word ‘unpredictable’ in reference to the team from Dunedin because in previous years the Highlanders were regarded as ‘easy beats’ but since former All Black Jamie Josephs’ arrival at the franchise things have changed.
If John Plumtree’s team is to see off these plucky New Zealanders, who rallied from a 21 point deficit last weekend against the Cheetahs, they will have to be switched on from minute one to eighty. in week 6 of the competition former All Black scrumhalf Justin Marshall, in an opinion piece for Fairfax Media, referred to this new resolve in the Highlander’s set up.
“Labouring is far from what the Highlanders are all about this season. At your peril do you go into a match against them unprepared to play right up to, and sometimes through, the 80-minute barrier.
If they get themselves ahead with 10 minutes or less remaining you would probably have more hope in scaling Everest in a blizzard than cracking their collective will to win.”
“Every Highlanders game has gone to the final whistle with the game in the balance, which I guess would be causing some rather nervous twitching in the coaches’ box.
However, it must be such a reassuring feeling as coaches to have a group of young men so hell-bent on winning they will die out there to get the win. Is that not the very essence of team sport? A collective team effort of “never give up” attitude and an overwhelming desire to win.”
A cursory look at the Highlanders early results backs Marshall’s assertion fully, in their first game of the season they edged the log-leading Chiefs 23-19, next up they pipped the mighty Crusaders 27-24 then they went on beat the Waratahs 18-17 before going on to the Cake Tin and putting one over the Hurricanes, as mentioned earlier this Highlanders team managed to outlast the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last Saturday.
The secret to this new found resolve seems to be in how Josephs manages to vary tactics in the latter stages of the game. Last week against the Cheetahs, Josephs’s team tried to match wits with the opponent’s forwards and came up short. Credit to Jamie and his compliment of substitutes who entered the fray and strategically switched the game to out wide in the process stretching the fatigued Cheetahs. Two quick-fire tries by Gloucester-bound All Black half-back Jimmy Cowan and the Highlanders were on par with the Cheetahs at 30 points a piece with less than 10 minutes on the clock and as they say, the rest is a horrendous Sias Ebersohn miss.
The conditions at Kings Park are always a factor but I think the most important factor will be the home team’s mindset and how & when John Plumtree uses his bench. Anything apart from an intense eighty minute “heads up” performance from the Sharks and this bunch from Dunedin might leave SA with 8 points in the pocket and we can expect a lot of whingeing in usually balmy Durban.Tweet