Plum expects a real scrap

2011-10-26 00:00

THEY might be good mates, but Sharks coach John Plumtree said he and John Mitchell, in charge of the Golden Lions, will be the best of enemies on Saturday.

The two are both from Hawera, a small town in New Zealand, and will be in opposing camps on Saturday evening at Ellis Park. They have bumped each other so often in the past, both as players and coaches, that the Hawera Cup — as well as the Currie Cup — will be up for grabs this weekend.

Plumtree admitted that the Sharks were on a war footing.

“There’s no love lost between us at the moment,” he said with a smile yesterday. “We’re won’t be good mates on Saturday.”

Plumtree dismissed the claim that the Sharks, crowded with internationals, would be the favourites.

“I don’t think the trophy has been won away from home for a fair amount of time, [since] the Free State Cheetahs, who beat the Blue Bulls 29-25 at Loftus. To win the Currie Cup away from home is a real challenge, but one we’re really looking forward to and we will have some good support up there.

“But it is the Lions’ home ground, they’ve been the form team all tournament and it will be a tough match for us.”

Plumtree said he is delighted that French flyhalf Frederic Michalak, who was injured against Free Staters in the weekend semi-final at King’s Park, will be ready for the final.

“He’s been great for us, a match-winner this campaign. He did have one or two games where he was a bit off, but he wasn’t playing behind the strongest pack the Sharks could put out. If we can provide a good platform for him he has just the range of skills we need and his experience will help.”

The Sharks are travelling to Sun City today to prepare for the final.

“I want to go up as early as possible and we’ll finish the rest of the preparation up there. It’s about getting some training done on the Highveld, getting acclimatised and preparing mentally.”

The Sharks have played almost the whole Currie Cup without their Springboks and they will have to operate as a unit on Saturday.

“We haven’t been together as group much in recent months and I’m looking forward to having the players together in the build-up.”

The Lions, he said, have the advantage of having been together from day one of the Currie Cup.

“When we won the trophy last year we were lucky enough to have the same team from start to finish over the course of the tournament. We had a cohesive unit.

“This year we’ve had a lot of challenges that the Lions haven’t had to face. We know we have to gel as a team right from the first whistle on Saturday. That’s something we’ve talked about. The Lions have that in place already and that will be the challenge for us. They’ve been playing well with that group all year. They were able to lighten up against us when they played here recently (the Sharks won 53-9). That performance meant nothing. I’m sure they’ve forgotten about that game because we have,” said Plumtree.

Saturday’s final provides Springbok Willem Alberts with a chance to lift a trophy after the disappointments of the Rugby World Cup, and he said he is looking forward to the challenge.

“You have your union or franchise duties before you get the Springbok call, and now that we’re back with the Sharks we have a job to do. I’m definitely looking forward to the chance to lift the Cup.”

He said that the Sharks struggled in the first half against Free State on Saturday “because we were waiting for things to happen”.

“We made a few mistakes and Free State made it difficult for us, but when we played together as a team, and as we had trained, it went well.

“We know we have a big challenge ahead of us. We need to pull together from the first whistle and play as a team.”

Alberts was playing for the Lions in 2007 when they last played in a final, losing by two points to Free State.

“The memory of that loss will sit with some of the Lions players, but, really, this is a new team. I don’t think the past will bother them too much because it’s a new campaign and a new era for them. They will be going out and giving it their all,” said Alberts.

Saturday’s final kicks off at 5.30pm.

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