Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The fact his Sharks team’s opening win wasn’t pretty to watch was insignificant for coach John Plumtree in comparison to the contrast between now and where his team were when they last started a Super Rugby campaign 12 months ago.
Whereas the Sharks started off 2010 with a disappointing loss to the Chiefs that started off a five match losing sequence, this time they won comfortably against their long time hoodoo team, the Cheetahs, and have four log points to their name as they await the next clash against the Blues.
The Sharks won the Currie Cup last year with an entertaining quick paced game but their 24-9 win over the Cheetahs saw little evidence of those strengths. Instead they ground out the victory, with the forwards leading the way and paving the way for the result which was achieved in a contest that featured a lot of kicking.
“We did kick a lot more than maybe we wanted to, but that is something you have to expect at this time of the year,” said Plumtree.
“That performance against the Cheetahs is not going to put bums on seats, we know that, but at the same time you couldn’t expect us to do much more than that in those conditions. Apart from the humidity, which makes running rugby difficult, there was also the rain we had to contend with in this match.
“To be fair to us, I did think we tried to play a bit of ball in hand rugby towards the start of the game and for part of the first half. We were just a little naïve and were guilty of running too laterally. We needed to be more direct. But once the conditions worsened there wasn’t much else we could do and I was pleased with the way we ground it out to win.”
The Cheetahs didn’t offer much and were disappointing, with their game in the first hour not extending much beyond a couple of misdirected up-and-unders before the need to play catch-up precipitated a different approach in the last quarter. It goes without saying that the Sharks might expect a much tougher challenge from the Blues at Kings Park this coming Saturday.
The Blues produced the biggest upset of the first round when they beat the heavily fancied Crusaders in Auckland at the weekend and will come to Durban in a confident mood. Plumtree will probably expect more from his team this time from an attacking viewpoint, but he and his coaching staff have also made it clear from the outset they don’t expect to return to the flamboyance of last year so early in the season.
To that end, the way the Sharks forwards dominated most phases of the game – they did struggle in the lineouts – should be a source of great encouragement, and the way that Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts just picked up from where they left off last year should be regarded as an ominous sign for future opponents.
As Plumtree says, the attacking game will come, but for now it should be pleasing to the Sharks that they do have another way to win.
The Sharks should be just one player short of full muster when Plumtree considers his selections for Saturday. Jean Deysel is only set to return from his long injury lay-off during the overseas tour, which starts next week, but Ross Skeate will be available again after recovering from the finger dislocation suffered during the Neo Africa Tri-Series in Cape Town.
Skipper John Smit should also be back after missing the Cheetahs match with a calf strain picked up at the captain’s practice the night before the game. JP Pietersen is expected to be over the slight hamstring complaint that kept him from being selected for the opening match.