Sharks out to blunt Sonny Bill
Gavin Rich, SuperSport
Johannesburg - They’re back at home, but coach John Plumtree is under no illusions about what awaits his Sharks team when they face the inform Chiefs in a Vodacom Super Rugby match at Mr Price Kings Park on Saturday.
It’s the ninth game and thus beyond the halfway point of the competition for the Sharks, who can look forward to playing six of their remaining games at home.
It’s a crucial one for the Durban team as with their first bye scheduled for next week, which comes with four guaranteed log points, a win against the Chiefs will put them right back into contention. But defeat will leave them lagging some distance behind the Stormers and Bulls regardless of what the two conference leaders do in their coming two matches.
The bonus point win over the Blues was just what the Sharks needed in terms of keeping in the competition race, and two wins from their four match tour was what they would have targeted at the outset as the minimum requirement.
But while being back in Durban has brought some degree of comfort for the Sharks, they know there is a good reason that the Chiefs are topping the log as the halfway point nears.
“This is not a Chiefs team like the Chiefs teams of the past, that is for sure,” said Plumtree at a press conference at Kings Park on Tuesday.
“We know we will have to play really well to beat them, they’re a really good side. They are playing certain combinations all the time now, like No 10, No 12 and No 13, and their locks are consistent, and two out of their three loosies play all the time. They rotate their hooker every now and then, but generally there props are fixtures that don’t change.
“The back three plays together more often than not, and I think this consistency in selection has contributed to the confidence with which they are playing. In the past the Chiefs used to leak tries and were considered a team with defensive weakness, but this year they have given away fewer tries than any other team in the competition. That’s been unheard of in the Chiefs teams of the past – they always scored a lot of tries but also conceded a lot.”
And it’s not as if the Chiefs have stopped scoring tries in order to bolster their defence, either. Plumtree is mindful of the threat packed by Sonny Bill Williams in particular, and he appears to remember the havoc Williams wreaked on the Sharks defence in last year’s match against Williams’ previous team, the Crusaders, in London.
“They base a lot of their play around Sonny Bill, and a lot of the launch is done around him,” said the Sharks coach.
“He’s playing very direct rugby, he a big guy, a big big guy, as big as a forward, and he’s in really good form and obviously enjoying his role. So we are going to have to look after him and watch him particularly closely. The Chiefs have a lot of X-factor in their team, but teams have a catalyst that they use to get them across the advantage line, and he provides that with his power.”
So in other words the Sharks will be going out to stop Sonny Bill as the first step in their quest for victory, something that will require the defensive effort to provide the commitment and accuracy of last week rather than the inconsistency of some previous matches. The Sharks have had an up and down season so far, and this has been reflected not just in their win/loss ratio, but also in their matches, with bad patches being mixed in with good patches.
“We’ve only strung together two good performances in a row once, so clearly we haven’t established any type of consistency in terms of results and that’s reflecting in our onfield play in terms of our defence and attack. We haven’t been happy with all areas of our game consistently after each performance, either our setpiece has let down when we defended well, or it’s been the other way around.
“We’re still looking for that complete performance where can go away and say we had a good day out. Our lineouts have been good, then poor. On defence, we haven’t found enough consistency with our tackle percentages for where they need to be at Super Rugby level. There’s a fair bit of work to do and we’ll keep working hard.”