High-profile Blues oozing confidence

2011-02-26 00:00

HEAD coach John Plumtree will be urging the Sharks to ignore history and concentrate on the present when they take on the Auckland Blues in the Super Rugby game at King’s Park this evening.

The Sharks, with 10 wins in 14 outings, have a remarkable record against the high-profile Blues and they have beaten the New Zealanders more often than any other team in the competition. Indeed, Plumtree’s team are looking for their seventh successive win over the talented but inconsistent Blues.

But Plumtree has every reason to be wary of the current Blues, who have a dozen All Blacks spread through their ranks and are oozing confidence after staging a superb second-half revival to beat the Crusaders 24-22 last weekend.

The Sharks coach said a glance at the Blues’ team sheet would confirm just how dangerous they are.

“They have so much X-factor among the backs with Joe Rokocoko, Rene Ranger, Isaia Toeava, Jared Payne and Benson Stanley. They are all good steppers and they all like running with the ball.”

“They have quality at halfback and there are seven All Blacks in their pack.”

Plumtree, significantly, highlighted the Sharks’ tactical kicking as a potential problem.

Last week, in beating the Cheetahs 24-9, the Sharks kept hoofing the ball downfield and their chase was sluggish. It mattered little against the Cheetahs who offered little on the counter and were content to reply by booting the ball back.

The Blues, in contrast, are runners rather than kickers, and they want to keep the ball in hand and punish the Sharks on the counter.

“If we kick poorly,” said Plumtree, “they will hurt us on the counter-attack. And, if we turn ball over, they’ll hurt us with width.”

Certainly the Sharks halfbacks, Pat Lambie and Charl Mcleod, have key tactical roles to play, both in managing the flow of the game and in kicking accurately to turn the Blues.

The Sharks place a heavy emphasis on defence and this had has bothered and beaten talented and skilful Blues teams in recent years.

“In the past the Blues have played their natural attacking game against us and occasionally come unstuck because of our defence or the Durban humidity,” said Plumtree.

The Sharks are also hoping that the long haul from New Zealand will have knocked some of the stuffing out of the Blues, who looked fit and focused in toppling the Crusaders in the first round.

But the Sharks will have to improve dramatically in several areas. Their lineout creaked badly against the Cheetahs, and the Blues, with a pair of All Black locks in Ali Williams and Anthony Boric, will provide even more of a test. The Sharks forwards also need to perform with greater cohesion, and “play as a unit”, in Plumtree’s words, to create frontfoot possession for their backs and prevent the Blues laying an attacking platform for their dangerous runners.

The Blues’ inconsistency has been a feature of their modest returns in recent years. Indeed, their win over the Crusaders, added to the two wins to end last year’s campaign, is the longest run of success in 27 games under Lam’s command.

But Lam, fielding an unchanged team, believes the Blues have turned the corner.

“We were happy with the performance of the team last week and want to keep the momentum going,” Lam said. “This is a tough game and we have not won over here in Durban since 2004 and that’s a long time.”

An unknown factor will be the impact the devastating Christchurch earthquake has had on the mindset of the Blues players. Two of them, flyhalf Stephen Brett and centre Jared Payne, are from the Christchurch area but have turned down an offer to return home.

Plumtree said that the “whole of New Zealand is hurting”, but whether this will be a distraction for the Blues or a strong and emotional motivating factor remains to be seen.

Lam said the heat and humidity of Durban, on top of the long trek to South Africa, would make ball protection critical if his players were to conserve energy and go the distance with a strong Sharks team.

The Sharks, in turn, will have to kick accurately and sustain the pressure for 80 minutes if they are to retain their excellent record against the threatening and buoyant Blues.

 

TEAMS

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche (c), 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Jacques Botes/ Lambert Groenewald, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 JP Pietersen.

Blues: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Kurtis Haiu, 19 Luke Braid, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Luke McAlister, 22 Sherwin Stowers.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (RSA).

Kick-off: 5.05 pm – live on M-Net and SuperSport 1

Curtain-raiser: Vodacom Cup, Sharks XV vs Blue Bulls (2.40pm)

 

Tomorrow: Hurricanes v Crusaders (Wellington, 8.35 am), Waratahs v Reds (Sydney, 10.40 am), Sharks v Blues (King’s Park, 5.05 pm), Stormers v Lions (Newlands, 7.10 pm)

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