Jamie sums up Sharks’ task
Johannesburg - Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph didn’t want to make any predictions about what will happen in the Christchurch Vodacom Super Rugby semi-final between the Crusaders and the Sharks, but he may have said enough to sum up the massive obstacle that stands in the visiting team’s way.
According to the supersport.com website, “All I can say is that it will be a ripper,” said Joseph, but then appeared to be biting his lip when pressed to say more.
“Look, what I can tell you is that the Sharks will be up against a complete team, a team that plays complete rugby and doesn’t have many weaknesses,” he added.
And that is it in a nutshell. What Joseph wasn’t saying, but had made clear in early parts of the message he put across in the post-match press conference at Growthpoint Kings Park, was that the Sharks may be some ways short of being the complete team themselves, with the Highlanders’ defeat being almost entirely down to the scrum’s disintegration in the face of the onslaught of the Sharks eight.
“The Sharks, the Stormers, the Bulls, the Lions and the Cheetahs, they all have similar strengths and way to win games, but then there are areas where they aren’t as good as other teams,” he said.
“We tried our best today, and we came really close and are disappointed we didn’t claim the win, but in the end you struggle to win games when you are as outplayed at forward as we were in this match. It takes away your energy when you are always under pressure at forward.”
But the Sharks won’t necessarily be able to put the strong Crusaders pack under pressure, which means they will have to find another way to win. To that end though, Joseph did offer the Sharks a glimmer of hope in the form of the essential difference between the Sharks side that won the quarterfinal and the one the Highlanders outplayed in a league game at the same venue.
“There were some personnel changes to the Sharks for this game that made a huge difference, and the main one was Bismarck du Plessis,” said Joseph.
“He inspires the players around him, you can see that, and they gain confidence from having him present. He didn’t play against us in the league match, but today we saw how important he is to the Sharks in the scrums, and also in other aspects of forward play. He is an immense presence at the breakdowns. And we saw his individual skills coming through in setting up an important try (scored by Tonderai Chavhanga).”
Du Plessis, as was the case in the Stormers game, seemed to be struggling a bit with an injury before he was replaced in the second half, and the Sharks will be hoping that there are no complications in the build-up to Christchurch. For Joseph is right in what he says, Du Plessis is crucially important to the Sharks’ chances of winning.
It was Du Plessis’ determination and desire to lead the team to victory on the occasion of brother Jannie’s 100th cap that saw the Sharks to victory against all the odds when they played the Crusaders in Christchurch in May. And that steely determination was again in evidence when the game was close this past weekend.
Joseph is right when he hints that the Sharks are short of a complete game, but they will probably have Patrick Lambie back to add the dimension that has been missing for much of the season, and they also have something else that is epitomised by both Du Plessis brothers – a simple refusal to lose. It is that last ingredient that does give them some hope in Christchurch.