Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The Sharks’ recent defeat to the Blue Bulls at Loftus has certainly increased the pressure on the Durban outfit for Saturday’s ABSA Currie Cup clash with hoodoo team, the Cheetahs.
Until they went down to the Bulls, the Sharks were sailing comfortably and it was hard to imagine anyone catching up with them in the race for top spot on the final log.
This was after Western Province, who had been log leaders one match short of the halfway mark, had lost three games in a row and appeared to be fading out of the picture.
However the one defeat, which would have been unexpected to a Sharks team that was building impressively up to that point, has left the Sharks vulnerable to the chasing pack if they slip up once more. And their coach John Plumtree is under no illusions that a significant lift is required in performance if they are to maintain their momentum.
Priority number one for his charges on Saturday will be to ensure that they deliver a full 80 minutes rather than lapse into the habit of doing everything in the first half and producing nothing after that.
“If you look at our performances over the last fortnight, we have probably had a total of one good game – the first half against the Bulls and the first half against the Pumas,” said Plumtree.
“We have not been coming out of the change room well. We have spoken about that and the need to produce the whole package. We had an excellent August but have not been as good this month, so we want to get back to playing good football.”
Plumtree pinpointed the high rate of unforced errors and finishing as part of the problem that has kept his team from producing their best over the last 160 minutes of rugby.
“We haven’t been as clinical as we were last month. To be fair, we are not going to finish all of the opportunities off, but unforced errors have been creeping in and this has contributed to us not converting enough of the opportunities we are presented with. We have to show more composure and better decision-making, and in some cases better skills, when we have broken the opposition down and need to finish them off.”
The Sharks know the ante has been raised for this week by the tough ending they have to the league stage of competition. In their future they have away matches against both the resurgent Lions and Western Province, with the latter match scheduled for the last round when the Cape team will be in position to welcome back Springboks such as Schalk Burger, Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana.
“That does make this a huge game for us – big time. We don’t have the easiest of finishes to the competition and we must capitalise on our home games,” said the coach.
“The Lions are a good side now and Province at Newlands is always a massive challenge, so we have to beat the Cheetahs. The Cheetahs have run into good form and have real self-belief now. They really thrive on the Currie Cup. They are good at bringing young players through who can cope with Currie Cup level and I think they would back their chances of beating us both in Durban or Bloemfontein.”