Brace of wins ‘keeps wolves away,’ says Plum

2010-03-29 00:00

HIS team are still way down in 10th spot on the Super 14 log, but head coach John Plumtree knows how significant Saturday’s 29-26 Super 14 win over the Hurricanes will be for the future of Sharks rugby.

Plumtree, speaking before his team left New Zealand yesterday, wryly remarked that he would no longer need a police escort to make it home safely from the Durban airport after the Sharks bounced back from five successive defeats to end their tour with a brace of victories on New Zealand soil.

The battered Sharks can now return with their heads high after picking up 10 log points from their travels and somehow resisting a strong Hurricanes second half challenge for a brave win at the end of a demanding tour.

It needed a calm penalty goal of 50 metres from Ruan Pienaar, in the last act of the game, to achieve the win, but that made it all that much sweeter for the Sharks, who have seen four games this season dribble away from them in the closing moments.

Pienaar, back at scrumhalf and growing in confidence with each passing week, had to overcome the distraction of the home crowd and the blaring final hooter as he stood at the end of his approach. But he showed admirable temperament, just as he did in landing a touchline conversion against the Crusaders with the last kick of the game at King’s Park in 2007.

“I didn’t think too much about the kick,” Pienaar said matter-of-factly. “Obviously I really want to kick it and luckily it went over. I was happy to get a win and now we can go home and try and capitalise.”

Pienaar did give his captain John Smit a nasty scare.

“I’m pretty happy when a guy stands up and lands a kick like that,” Smit said. “But I saw him leaning to the left after he had kicked and I nearly had a heart attack.”

After weeks of unfounded rumours, the win will help lift the pressure on the Sharks players and their coach though, of course, making the play-offs is still a distant goal.

“It keeps the wolves away for a bit,” a relieved Plumtree told reporters in Wellington. “There’s been a lot of pressure on us and it’s been bloody tough.”

He praised the character of the players and their leaders, Smit, Johann Muller and Stefan Terblanche, for keeping the squad together in the face of massive criticism.

“It would have been easy to disintegrate, but we kept together.”

The victory was very much a team effort, but highlighting the commitment were the many tackles made by the big forwards, Jannie du Plessis, Alistair Hargreaves and Steven Sykes while flank Jacques Botes, stronger on defence, had his best game of the season. Pienaar, taking more responsibility at scrumhalf, was clearly the man-of-the-match and fullback Pat Lambie, tackling well and safe under the high ball, was again impressive.

The Sharks, superior in the lineout and surprisingly effective in the scrum, where Smit was again strong at loosehead, were deservedly ahead 13-6 at the break. In the second half it seemed that the tiring Sharks, missing far too many first-time tackles, would be rolled over by the wave of Hurricane attacks. But their scrambling defence, and a string of errors by the Hurricanes when hard on attack, saved them time and again.

Plumtree conceded that it was a game where the better attacking team lost, but praised his players for hanging on grimly.

See page 19 for Super 14 round-up.

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