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Plumtree: We can match them
Durban - The Sharks head into Saturday's Super Rugby qualifier against the Crusaders in Nelson quietly determined to pull off the unthinkable - beating the seven-time champions in New Zealand.
It is something that has never been done during the knockout stages of the competition, but Sharks coach John Plumtree believes his side has what it takes to make history and earn a place in the semi-finals.
Plumtree has spoken all week about the effects of jetlag being the biggest hurdle for the Durban-based team to overcome - they embarked on an 11 000km journey on Tuesday - but that is largely beyond their control.
What the Sharks can attempt to do is match their opponents stride for stride and hope to come up with a result similar to the one achieved against the Bulls in Pretoria last week when they won an epic encounter to reach the playoffs.
"We've got a forward pack that can scrum and a lineout that's also pretty good," Plumtree said.
"We've got a pack that can compete and that's going to be key if it's wet and cold down there as predicted.
"We've got a Freddie Michalak that can control the game, and we've got a Pat Lambie kicking game at the back as well, so as long as we defend really well in our set-piece functions we make sure the territory is in our favour."
One thing the Sharks know for certain is that they will need to be on the button in all areas of the field as they try and end a Crusaders record that reads 16 wins out of 16 in Super Rugby knockout games on home soil.
However, there is a significant difference this time around for the hosts as they are playing at Trafalgar Park rather than their usual home ground at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
The Christchurch venue was damaged after an earthquake earlier this year, forcing the Crusaders to use other grounds in Nelson, Timaru and Napier, as well as Twickenham in London where they played once this season.
Coincidentally, the game in London was played against the Sharks and the New Zealand outfit ran out 44-28 winners.
"Obviously a big part of that win was Dan Carter, Sonny Bill Williams and Robert Fruean," Plumtree said.
"Their ability to shift the ball in to space, whether it was from the hand or from kicking, is a key to their game and obviously the foundation to their game is built around their scrum.
"So we have to make sure that we scrum really, really well against the Crusaders this weekend.
"If we can look after their defensive flair and their scrums well, then anything can happen."
Plumtree added that the front row battle could be vital in deciding the match, admitting there was still room for improvement from his front three.
"It's a very good scrimmaging side. They have a very short front row and they scrum very low.
"But we've got a pretty big front row ourselves. We're going to have to scrum a lot better than we did against the Bulls, and the boys know that."
As for the task of ending the hosts' exceptional home record, as well as the Sharks' own woeful record of never beating the Crusaders away, Plumtree said his players had grown in confidence after their win over the Bulls, and he believed they had the ability to pull off a shock victory.
"I think what happened on the weekend gives them that belief," he said.
"It was a huge game, it was a knockout and that could give us a lot of belief.
"If we can take that confidence across to New Zealand and apply it for 80 minutes then you never know."