Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - Sharks coach John Plumtree has long ago given up caring about how his team gets over the line – all he cares about now is that they get across the line.
So it wasn’t surprising that he arrived back in Durban after the 23-18 win over the Cheetahs that puts his team in fifth position on the overall Super Rugby log and within touching distance of a place in the playoffs happy with the way that his team had won what he called “a scrap”.
Plumtree has long referred to this year’s competition, with its extended format, as a test of staying power and endurance rather than necessarily a team’s class and ability, and he feels that his view has been vindicated now that the tournament has reached its last weeks of the league phase.
“A lot of it will now be down to mental strength,” said Plumtree.
“The last two weekends have been packed with upsets and I reckon that is because concentration is now waning. Teams have been fronting up week after week for a long time now and eventually it takes a toll. An example was the Reds at the weekend not being up mentally for the visit by the Brumbies and they ended up getting beaten.”
The Sharks play the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday in a clash which could easily be termed “the friendly war” were it not for the fact that the Sharks are now getting themselves to a point where they are rediscovering their old penchant for getting in first with the physicality aspect, which was certainly noticeable on the televised recording of the Bloemfontein game.
So Butch James, an old Shark and long-time friend of Sharks captain John Smit, won’t be expecting any favours from his old mates as the Durbanites do everything they possibly can to assure themselves of the much needed win. Neither of course will John Mitchell expect any favours from his old friend Plumtree.
For Plumtree, it is all about keeping focus and concentration and not taking anything for granted. He said last week that winning two out of three of the remaining matches should book a place in the play-offs, and with 51 points from their 14 matches, the Sharks are now just two points away from the magical 53 that was said to guarantee a top six position.
So the Lions game should clinch the Sharks their spot in the playoffs if they win it, and that is incentive enough.
“The Lions have travelled a long way to get back here from New Zealand but that hardly means it is a given that we will beat them,” said the coach.
“Everyone needs to carry on working hard. That is the beauty and challenge of this competition – it is so mentally challenging that nothing can be taken for granted.”
The good news for the Sharks is that they returned from the bruising match in Bloemfontein without any further injury problems and with the exception of Jannie du Plessis and Odwa Ndungane, Plumtree will have a full squad to choose from for Saturday’s match.