Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - Although they lost to the Crusaders in the showpiece event of the last Vodacom Super Rugby weekend, Sharks coach John Plumtree has arrived home encouraged by the progress that his men are making back towards the playing style that won them last year’s Currie Cup.
The Sharks are preparing for their big derby showdown with the DHL Stormers in Durban on Saturday, and the amount of flying they have had to do in recent times, with an economy class flight to and from London added on to the flight home from the south island of New Zealand, must introduce the possibility that they will be just a little flat.
However, by all accounts they have trained well this week so far, and their only injury worry, miraculously if you consider how physical the London confrontation with the Crusaders was, remains Jacques-Louis Potgieter’s injured finger.
Although Potgieter is having the injury looked at and is still in the frame for Saturday’s game, the smart money should be on Meyer Bosman making the switch the flyhalf position where he made his Springbok debut under Jake White in 2005, with Riaan Swanepoel coming in at inside centre.
The Crusaders defeat left the Sharks two wins behind the Stormers, who remain the only unbeaten team in the competition, and Plumtree, as he told a press conference in Durban, knows that the log-leaders are going to be up for a physical battle, as these South African internecine conflicts often are.
“They are in the same bracket as a physical presence as Crusaders. They have a big midfield, defensively they are well organized and they have a physical pack,” said Plumtree.
“I guess in terms of skill level the Crusaders are superior, but right now I think they are superior to everyone when it comes to that.”
Plumtree acknowledged that his team made too many errors in the first half against Crusaders, and it cost them any chance of being in a position to win the match. However, he was encouraged by the second half comeback, and in particular by the tackle statistics from the match. The Crusaders made more tackles than the Sharks did, and Plumtree sees that as a move forward on the graph towards rediscovering the high tempo, possession based playing style that won the Currie Cup.
“Crusaders had to make 60-odd more tackles than us in the end, and that was how we played last year when the tackle count of the opposition was higher than us in every game,” he said. “So if we can get our basics right and cut down on our errors, then there is a good chance we should be able to get it together against the Stormers.”
However, while not wanting to make excuses as “the decision to go to London was taken as a team”, Plumtree admitted that he wasn’t quite sure how the players would react to all the travel.
“What we have seen so far this week has been encouraging, they are training well,” he said.