Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The Sharks set off on their “Mission Impossible” on Sunday to try to win the Super Rugby final for the first time, buoyed by the confidence in his 2012 personnel expressed by coach John Plumtree.
A gleeful Chiefs side lies in wait on Saturday for the Hamilton showpiece, no doubt delighted at not having to make the gruelling trek themselves to Cape Town after the Stormers just came up short once more in the gripping all-South African semi-final at Newlands on Saturday.
It is a murderous yo-yo for the Sharks from a travel point of view, as they had only returned a few days ago from knocking over defending champions the Reds in Brisbane and now face the long haul again.
They are boxing as clever as they possibly can – the squad will set up camp in the relaxing environs of Coogee Beach, Sydney, some three quarters of the way to their Waikato destination, before proceeding onward to the Land of the Long White Cloud on Thursday.
Asked about the daunting prospect of returning to Australasia so soon, Plumtree said at Saturday’s after-match press conference: “I know personally the jet lag when travelling there is terrible; I have to take sleeping tablets most nights for a week!
“But the players are younger and they get over it quicker; it’s not ideal but we will try to prepare smartly and get these boys back up: we’re representing South Africa now.
“We just want to get them in beds as quickly as possible in Sydney and also do some preparation there, try to get some freshness back before going to New Zealand.”
What cannot be disputed is that the Sharks boast a heartening head of steam after several weeks of landing impressive wins.
“We gathered confidence and grew a bit at the same time ... it snowballed,” explained Plumtree.
“The team started believing in themselves about 20 to 30 percent more than when we were playing before the international break.
“We were already playing knockout rugby, basically, several weeks ago so it hardened us, and the leadership grew with that.
“To go to Queensland and win last week and then come here to do it again was always going to be a huge task for any side – I’m really proud of how the boys have stood up.
“You could see the guys getting tired towards the end here, and the subs had a crucial role to play.
“It’s great to be giving a winning speech (after the semi) but we have also had some pain getting here, to this point.
“I just think this team is getting more balanced all the time. Over the past couple of years we’ve gone through times where we haven’t had a ten, or haven’t had a midfield, or struggled for depth in certain areas – we’re starting to get that right now even if there are one or two positions still to tinker with.
“I’m more excited about the backs ... you look at (Francois) Steyn, Jordaan, (Tim) Whitehead; depth there now. And I still think Pat Lambie is a ten, so we’ll work hard on him when Freddie (Michalak) leaves.
“The backs are there, and the pack’s pretty good. I’m more excited about this team than I ever have been, I reckon.”
Asked just how firmly he believed the Sharks could defy the hefty travel disadvantage and win the final, Plumtree responded: “I guess you guys will decide that! I mean, it would be amazing ... flying there, flying back here, than back again.
“Nobody’s ever done it. Who can do it? If we don’t do this, someone will eventually. If we can get up physically for this game, anything can happen.”
Both losing captain Jean de Villiers and coach Allister Coetzee were magnanimous in their praise for the Sharks’ performance at Newlands.
De Villiers said: “The Sharks are on a real roll, on a mission ... if there’s a team you won’t bet against now it’s them.
“It will be a fantastic victory for them if they can go on and win it. They’ve shown that they can overcome the travelling.
“It’s going to be tough to do it but the whole of South Africa should get behind them. They’ve got a great chance.”
Coetzee described the Sharks as “deserved winners” who had put his charges under pressure, particularly in the first half.
“We wish them well in the final.”
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