Time for Plumtree to get tough
Johannesburg - There are signs that there may be some fall-out at Kings Park following the Sharks’ no-show in the top of the table Vodacom Super Rugby clash against the Brumbies at the weekend, with coach John Plumtree hinting afterwards that changes may be on the way.
According to the supersport.com website, the Sharks have made a habit in recent years of performing only when their backs are to the wall and they are in a situation which equates to a knock-out footing. They aren’t in that place yet because they won their first three matches and Saturday’s 29-10 reverse to Jake White’s men was their first defeat of the season.
However, now that they have suffered a loss, and a big one at that, it brings a different perspective to the problems that maybe could have been glossed over in the previous games because they won. Reading between the lines of what Plumtree said after the game in Durban, he is again concerned at the attitude of his players.
“The team is embarrassed, and some senior players haven’t stepped up, and that isn’t acceptable,” said Plumtree at the post-match press conference.
“We will look internally and make decisions from there.”
The Sharks coach has long felt that the extra games added onto the Super Rugby schedule under the new format that was introduced in 2011 lead senior players, particularly the Springboks, to pace themselves early in the season. They didn’t do that against the Stormers, because there is just so much riding on a South African derby, but the Sharks have been well short of full gallop in the other games they have played.
With the Rebels up this week followed by a bye, Plumtree finds himself in what must feel a familiar position after what he went through in previous seasons of feeling that he must read the riot act to his players.
It may be though that the Sharks, who must now be used to playing against teams who are not prepared to risk anything in the slippery conditions brought about by the KZN late summer humidity, were just shocked at the way the Brumbies reverted to their style of old by carrying the ball at them with a multi-phase approach.
Given the way matches tend to be played in Durban at this time of the year, the Sharks may not have been expecting that - particularly as field kicking had been such a big part of the Brumbies success prior to their visit to Kings Park.
“I thought the Brumbies were outstanding. Our defence clearly wasn’t up to the mark in the first half in particular,” said the coach.
“In saying that, I don’t want to take anything away from the Brumbies attack game. The way they kept the ball and built pressure was a real lesson for us and probably for a lot of teams. Defensively, we haven’t had to repel that kind of sustained attack before, they just ate us up, and they sapped our energy levels, which showed up in other areas later on.
“You can’t sit back and wait for a side like that to build momentum. And we weren’t brave enough to stop them, we didn’t have enough big hitters out there.”
Indeed, it does need to be noted on that point that the Sharks are missing some crucial players through injury. Jean Deysel, the man of the match against the Stormers two weeks ago and so central to their defensive game with his big tackles that forced turn-overs, is out for four weeks, and there is still no sign of the injured Willem Alberts. Bismarck du Plessis is of course another player who makes a massive difference in that regard.
Plumtree won’t be looking at their absence as an excuse, however, and he should feel he has enough depth in his squad to withstand injuries. What he will require from his men is that they come out in their next game against the Rebels with the necessary intensity and do to the Melbourne team what the Brumbies did to his men.
If a lesson can be absorbed in a week, maybe last Saturday was a necessary wake-up call to a Sharks team that remains handily placed on both the overall log and on the conference table.