Boks’ fitness tests during Currie Cup ‘irritates’

2010-10-06 00:00

THE Sharks are going to Newlands to win with the strongest available side — that was the message from head coach John Plumtree yesterday as he looked ahead to the top-of-the-log Currie Cup clash against Western Province at Newlands on Saturday evening.

The pressure is firmly on Province who have to win to stay second and host a semi-final. The Sharks, eight clear at the top, are in an unassailable position but Saturday’s result will decide their semi-final opponents.

A win for Plumtree’s team at Newlands will almost certainly drop Province to fourth and they would meet the Sharks again in the semi-finals a week later; a Province win would see them meeting Free State at Newlands in the play-offs with the Sharks bumping the Currie Cup champion Blue Bulls at King’s Park.

“The talk around town is who we would rather play in the semis, Province or the Bulls. We’re not even thinking about it. We are going to Newlands to win and we will worry about the semi-finals later.

“Anyway, there’s not much choice between Province and the Bulls. Both are pretty tough and were the top two teams in the Super 14. It will be a formidable challenge for us to beat both to win the Currie Cup but it’s not impossible.”

Plumtree has to choose between Pat Lambie and Andre Pretorius at flyhalf and said both would be given a run at Newlands.

Veteran Bok flyhalf Pretorius, who has been out of top flight rugby for many months because of injury, slipped easily into form for the Sharks against the Leopards last Friday and goaled all six of conversion attempts. The young Lambie, switched to flyhalf from fullback via inside centre, has also been impressive.

“No, we won’t move Lambie back to centre,” Plumtree said emphatically. “Let’s not even go there because it will just mean criticism that I’m for chopping and changing.

“But the selection (at flyhalf) is something people will be talking about. Do you go with the old or young head. We have an opportunity this week to give both players some time and that’s the nice thing about the position we’re in.

“We have been very pleased with Pat and he has played really well for us. But we are going into a tough phase of the competition now and Andre might just be able to offer us something important towards the end of knock-out games if they are close.”

Plumtree said that Pretorius had shown up strongly against the Leopards but he needed to reproduce that form “in a really big game like the one against Province” on Saturday.

The Sharks coach said that Province’s returning Springboks would provide them with confidence.

“Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie and Schalk Burger are key men in the Bok team and they are certainly key to Province. But we’ve beaten them before and it doesn’t matter who they have, or who we have, the contest will still be pretty tight.”

The Sharks, he said, would try and stop Province securing a home semi-final.

“Our guys will be expected to perform and we will choose the strongest available side.

But we do have players with a few knocks and we might have to rest some of them.”

Among those who are nursing injuries are Willem Alberts, Alistair Hargreaves, Keegan Daniel, Steve Sykes and returning Bok JP Pietersen.

“The backs are not in bad shape. Stefan Terblanche (after injury) and Adi Jacobs will both be available but we might only have JP Pietersen (hamstring) ready for the semi-finals.”

Plumtree was annoyed that the contracted Springboks will only return to the Sharks for practice today after being called up for fitness tests in Cape Town.

“It is irritating but it’s the same for everyone and we have adjusted our working weeks. But the thinking around having the testing done in a big week like this one just amazes me. I don’t know why it does because nothing should surprise me anymore.”

The Sharks coach said the team would still be well prepared for Newlands because they had always known the contracted Boks would be back this week.

“Bismarck (Du Plessis) and Beast (Mtawarira) have already played in this Currie Cup and so has JP. The only one who hasn’t had any game time is Adi Jacobs so the Newlands game will be a real trial for him. If he comes back at his best, and that will be a real challenge for him, it will be great for us.”

Leading South African referee Mark Lawrence will handle the Sharks match on Saturday which kicks off at 5.05 pm.

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