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The best I've seen - Plumtree
John Plumtree and Frederic Michalak (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The travel-weary Sharks exposed the Stormers' shortcomings in their Super Rugby semi-final at Newlands on Saturday.
The Sharks' tactical nous saw them triumph 26-19 to earn the right to join the Chiefs in next week's final in New Zealand.
Week after week, the Stormers produced one-dimensional match-winning performances on the back of solid defence to finish top of the standings, but they fell short in other areas such as attack and tactical kicking.
Sharks coach John Plumtree did what some of his predecessors, Ian McIntosh and Kevin Putt, did and reshuffled his starting line-up.
It turned out to be a masterstroke as JP Pietersen's move from wing to centre was particularly telling on the day.
Plumtree gave his flyhalf Frederic Michalak a free hand to run the show as he saw fit and his tactical kicking throughout the match proved a nightmare for the Stormers.
Subsequently, Michalak had a hand in both of the Sharks' tries to go with his 16 points via penalties, drop-goals and conversions.
A visibly distressed Jean de Villiers conceded afterwards that the Stormers were not good enough on the day.
"We can only blame ourselves," said De Villiers.
"We had 80 minutes to prove that we were good enough and in the end we were short.
"I don't think we ever stopped trying, but we were beaten by a better team and it will take time to get over it."
Plumtree said the Sharks' performance was one of the team's finest during his tenure as coach.
"I put it right up there with the best displays I've seen," said Plumtree.
"They've got that confidence and it grows a bit with every week.
"A few weeks ago they would not have won this match and it shows how much they've grown in self-belief.
Plumtree said they made a late decision to change the team because they needed to something about increasing their territorial position.
"We brought in Riaan (Viljoen) because of his big boot and that was one way we could spend more time in our opponent's half," he said.
"We've experienced great pain getting to this point.
"We were hit hard in the collisions and the Stormers really slowed down our ball."
The Sharks fly out to Hamilton on Sunday via Sydney.
"It's not ideal preparation in the week of the final," said Plumtree.
"We never spoke about it but I could see today the players were getting tired."