Injuries a pain for Sharks

2013-04-16 00:00

THE Sharks’ Super Rugby challenge is hanging in the balance with the poor form of senior players, and a dozen injuries, placing head coach John Plumtree under massive pressure.

The Sharks meet the Cheetahs at King’s Park on Saturday evening and then depart on their four-match tour of New Zealand and Australia the next day. They play the 2013 champion Chiefs and then the Highlanders in New Zealand before crossing the Tasman Sea to face the 2012 title-winning Reds and the Force in Perth to end their month-long trip.

The Sharks (26 points) head the South African conference by three points from Cheetahs, Bulls (both 23) and Stormers (20) and a loss in Durban on Saturday will throw the South African conference wide open.

“We’ll have to see how this week goes but the injuries are pretty frustrating for us,” said Plumtree.

“We’re about to head to New Zealand and we have 12 or 13 injuries in the camp.”

Plumtree admitted the Sharks were under-strength and highlighted the problems in the backrow and outside three quarter.

“The replacements are carrying a heavy workload. We need to get some reinforcements back.”

Plumtree said he did not want to dwell on the injury problems.

“It’s a case of us having trust in the personnel we have. But it gets harder when your squad gets smaller and smaller.”

Compounding Plumtree’s problem is the poor form of many of his seasoned Springboks.

After the limp showing and heavy defeat by the Brumbies in mid-March, Plumtree was critical of several established players.

“It is not acceptable that some senior players aren’t stepping up while there are juniors who are,” he said at the time. And the story was repeated at Newlands on Saturday.

Frans Steyn, Odwa Ndungane, Meyer Bosman and the two props Jannie du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira were all exposed on Saturday while the three Springbok backrowers Keegan Daniel, Marcell Coetzee and Ryan Kankowski were outplayed by the Stormers loose forwards.

Paul Jordaan, one of South Africa’s brightest talents last year, has made no impact on attack in seven outings and even Pat Lambie seems to have lost the vision and deft touch he showed when he started at flyhalf in 2010.

Injuries have cut Plumtree’s options in selection but fullback Riaan Viljoen, lock Anton Bresler and tighthead prop Wiehahn Herbst deserve to start.

Wing JP Pietersen, strong and involved, is the one international who has kept shining but he now has an ankle injury — he was on crutches at yesterday’s Springbok training camp — and is obviously doubtful for the Cheetahs game.

The silver lining this season has been provided by youngsters Pieter-Steph du Toit in the second row, hooker Kyle Cooper and scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, but quite clearly the Sharks lack physicality and their big men are having little impact.

Du Plessis lacks the form of last year and Mtawarira, big and mobile, is one of their chief ball carriers, but he goes to ground immediately on making contact and seldom breaches the gainline or creates go-forward ball.

It is left to the less experienced, smaller Cooper, Du Toit and Marcell Coetzee, who have the ability to stay on their feet in contact, to provide the pack with much of their momentum.

Grant Bashford, the assistant Sharks coach, added to the gloom yesterday when he spoke of a short, severely disrupted week of preparation with 10 of the Sharks at the two-day Bok training camp. (Scrumhalf Cobus Reinach was a late call-up in place of the injured Jano Vermaak).

“We’re going to have to prepare for the Cheetahs later in the week. We know how to beat the Cheetahs but we’ll work very hard to get it right.”

The match kicks off at 5.05 pm on Saturday and New Zealander Jonothan White is the referee.

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