Vodacom Super 14

No rift in Sharks squad

2010-03-15 22:32
John Plumtree (Gallo Images)
John Bishop

Durban - Sharks head coach John Plumtree has, again, angrily dismissed reports that there is a rift in his squad.

The Sharks have lost five successive Super 14 matches and Plumtree has spent much of the past month refuting claims, largely in the Afrikaans media, of unhappiness within the squad.

Speaking from Queenstown in New Zealand yesterday, and ahead of Saturday's game against the Highlanders in Dunedin, Plumtree said that he was irritated by these unfounded stories “particularly as the opposite is true.”

 “This is all generated by sensational talk in certain sections of the media. The players are really happy and are working hard to try and put things right.

“Of course, we’re not happy with the string of defeats and where we are on the log, but the team have accepted that they are responsible for that. Whoever is selected against the Highlanders this weekend, they know what they have to do.”

Plumtree emphasised that the Sharks remained a united team.

“I’m sick of hearing and reading this rubbish.  We are losing and like any other team the confidence takes a knock. But to say that there is a rift is just mischief-making. It is incorrect and it irritates me because there is no foundation to these stories.”

 The New Zealand-born coach said that the Sharks were simply not playing well enough to turn narrow losses into wins.

“We had opportunities to score more points (against the Brumbies) on the weekend but we turned over possession on attack and you can’t afford to do that.

“Our defence was really good apart from a couple of situations right on the goal-line when we let them in. But we’re letting the opposition off by getting field position and then not converting that into points.”

Plumtree said that games were being lost in the closing minutes because of a lack of composure.

“We just have to get smarter. When you are a couple of points up, you don’t want to be giving away penalties in the final few minutes... The game is all about pressure and composure. At the end of the day, we didn’t show enough composure to win that game.”

Last year the Sharks won their first four Super 14 games – three on the road – and Plumtree said a number of factors had changed since then.

He said there was no single reason but the disruptions at scrumhalf, flyhalf and inside centre had made a significant impact.

“Last year we had the same 9, 10 and 12 (Rory Kockott, Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn) for the first four games but from the very start this season we have been disjointed in that pivotal area  and we have never been able to get our game going.

“All the top teams at the moment have outstanding combinations in those positions,” he added.

He said that there were positives to be taking from the string of narrow losses.

“We’re pretty happy with our defence and we’ve now lost four games by less than five points. Our only heavy defeat was against Crusaders and we were in that game until the last 10 or 12 minutes.

“There are always going to be positives to take out of a contest but it is frustrating that each week we’re in contention but still not able to get the result and this has put us under pressure.”

The Sharks flew in to Queenstown, a holiday resort in New Zealand’s South Island, on Sunday and they will be based there until Saturday’s game against the Highlanders.

Plumtree said that there were a number of fitness concerns with prop Deon Carstens and centre Adi Jacobs nursing injured knees and Riaan Swanepoel a sore ankle.

“We are hoping our midfield (Jacobs and Swanepoel) will be ready by Thursday’s practice.”

Plumtree dismissed speculation that he was considering beefing up his loose trio by fielding a combination of Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Ryan Kankowski and dropping his smaller, quicker open side flank (Keegan Daniel or Jacques Botes).

“Your loose forwards have to be fast. The game is about pace, the phase play is speeding up because the breakdown is with the new-look laws. The bigger, heavier players will battle because if you are not quick and mobile you struggle both on attack and defence.”

The Sharks’ record in Australia is poor – they have lost 17 of their last 19 games there – but they have curiously been far more effective in New Zealand and won two matches there (against the Blues and Chiefs) last year.

But Plumtree is taking little notice of history.

“I’m just worried about one week at a time. History says we have gone five games without a win and we are low on the log and that’s what I want to change.”

The Highlanders limped back to New Zealand yesterday after their South African tour which saw them beating the Cheetahs but then losing heavily to the Stormers and the Bulls. Travel fatigue should work in the Sharks’ favour.

“It’s always tough to come back from South Africa,” said Plumtree, ‘but they are a pretty courageous team. They also beat the Cheetahs which is something we struggle to do and they are much tougher at home.

“We know how difficult it’s going to be but we also know that, if we can hold on to that ball and build periods of attack and defend well, we can win. Our discipline has to be right and all the different factors that are letting us down need to be accurate on the day.”

Kick-off is 8.35 am on Saturday.


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