Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - A 46-year-old veteran of the Super Rugby landscape, Sharks coach John Plumtree
is hardly going to be weeping into his breakfast cereal over his charges’ two-match winless start to the 2012 campaign.
The New Zealander knows that while two away derby defeats - the Bulls and Stormers in successive weeks was always going to represent a taxing beginning - do not represent a desired return, a pair of Durban dates next up, against the Lions and Reds respectively, could be just the tonic the doctor ordered.
Of course neither will be easy, given that the Lions are the very outfit who trumped them rather unceremoniously in the Currie Cup final last year and the Reds are the defending champions of Super Rugby, but a revenge triumph in the first of those assignment, especially, ought to suddenly kick-start the Sharks to a healthy degree.
They did have the consolation of a losing bonus point at both Loftus and then Newlands on Saturday night, and are currently playing without a significant group of stalwarts, including some of their most revered ball-carriers and general “grunt” providers in the pack.
The Sharks, pretty much forced into fielding a XV geared more for mobility and fluidity, rather surprised the hosts - especially in a first half which they really should have finished more than three points to the good - with the width of their play, where Springbok left wing Lwazi Mvovo looked particularly
hungry for involvement and was so nearly put away to the try-line on a couple of occasions.
But there was always likely to be a second-half “response” from the unflappable and educated Stormers, which got them over the line in an all-penalties game that could just as easily have gone the other way instead of 15-12 to the Capetonians.Plum
tree, while clearly disappointed not to have prevailed under the circumstances, could hardly be blamed for lauding the “good effort”, as he put it, from his injury-hit outfit.
“That yellow card (to otherwise hard-grafting lock Ross Skeate) and the penalties against us in the second half cost us ... we will have to look at them.”
Diplomatically toward referee Mark Lawrence, Plum
tree said he felt some of the transgressions were “a bit touch and go” and, as so many coaches do, simply lamented “interpretation” as a potential factor on the night.
He was upbeat on some fronts, and saw fit to single out, among his troops, dynamic young flank Marcell Coetzee, who fronted up superbly on a night when the Sharks were without other possible loose forward options like Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts
and the adaptable Jean Deysel.
“Marcell was excellent for us tonight ... probably the best loose forward on the field. It’s fantastic for South African rugby that there are still such good youngsters coming through in these positions,” Plum
tree said, simultaneously mentioning also the names of Stormers players Siya Kolisi and Nick Koster.
The Sharks lineout mostly functioned better against the Stormers than it did at Loftus a week earlier, although Plum
tree may be concerned that when he introduced Springbok incumbent tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis off the bench in the second half, presumably for intended impact, the home side actually produced a couple of key, dominant shoves in the set scrums.
Neither side was especially impressive in the important areas of scrumhalf and flyhalf, and although Pat Lambie produced a few clever little touches at No 10, a lobby of Sharks supporters and observers probably still believes Frederic Michalak should operate back in that slot rather than No 9, with Lambie reverting to fullback.
“How do you turn around your current log position?” Plum
tree was asked, a little unscientifically, by one hack just before he fled the pretty blunt, short-lived media gathering.
“Easy, we’ve just got to win,” he replied.
The Sharks only start to have genuine problems, you would think, if they also trip up (Durban, Saturday, 17:05) against the Lions ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing