Plumtree dismisses talk of dilemma over hooker after Smit shines against Hurricanes

2011-04-26 00:00

JOHN Smit may have been one happy hooker at King’s Park on Saturday evening, but it is likely that he will be back at loosehead prop when the Sharks take on the Stormers in a crucial Super Rugby derby at Newlands this weekend.

Smit, in his first start at hooker this season as a replacement for the injured Bismarck du Plessis, had a productive evening against the Hurricanes and was warmly praised by coach John Plumtree.

Sharks team doctor Ewoudt van der Linde has said that Du Plessis, who is nursing a tender shoulder, will be back for the Stormers game and the indications are that he, and not Smit, will be wearing the No. 2 jersey at Newlands. Plumtree appeared unconcerned when asked after the Hurricanes win if he faces a dilemma at hooker. Indeed, it seemed the evidence of Saturday night merely confirmed what he already knew. “We saw John playing very well at hooker and I was so pleased for him. He can play anywhere in the front-row though I think he is more a loosehead prop than a tighthead. He will play hooker again for us. but you’ll just have to wait until Thursday [when the team will be named] to see who will play at two against the Stormers.”

The key to beating the Stormers is outmuscling them on the gain-line, and Bismarck du Plessis and flank Willem Alberts provide the hard, physical edge to the Sharks pack. Certainly it would be a major surprise if Du Plessis, arguably the leading hooker in world rugby, was overlooked for Newlands. The most likely scenario is that Du Plessis will be at hooker with Smit captaining the side from loosehead and Beast Mtawarira taking over in the second half. Plumtree also dismissed Bok coach Peter de Villiers’s criticism that Du Plessis is being overplayed. He added that the Sharks are being properly managed. “I think Victor Matfield [the Bulls’ veteran Springbok lock] is more of a concern,” said Plumtree. Du Plessis, with the Sharks’ bye and the injury break, has now had a fortnight on the sidelines. Plumtree said there is a window period at the end of the Super Rugby competition when World Cup players can be rested.

“These players are also exceptionally fit and after a short break they are ready to go again. We are also fortunate to have six high quality front-rowers [Smit, the Du Plessis brothers, Mtawarira,Van Staden and Burden] so we can rotate and manage our players.” What could be of more concern for Plumtree is 118 kg flank Willem Alberts, who has played nine intensely physical games without a break and taken a fearsome hammering charging headlong into opponents on attack and defence.

Plumtree cannot wait to have the 112 kg Jean Deysel, a similarly robust flank, available again to provide him with loose forward options. Deysel, who has played three Vodacom Cup matches this past month, has been out since last year when he underwent knee surgery.

“We are hoping to have Jean back for the Stormers game and we’ll see how he goes at training this week,” said Plumtree.

The Sharks are also hoping that injured lock Alistair Hargreaves (shoulder) will return to help solve their lineout problems but the indications are that he will only be ready for the Durban game against the Brumbies a week later.

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett said the Sharks’ lineout limitations could prevent them challenging for the title. “Last year the Sharks’ lineout play was about the best in the competition. They gained their momentum driving and playing off the lineout.

“They are not as clinical there now. If they can get their lineout right again, I have no doubt they can be title contenders,” said Hammett. The Hurricanes coach said teams with depth in their squads would be those challenging in the final weeks.

“I think we [the New Zealanders] are still learning how to manage and rotate players. Those teams able to use the depth in their squads will, at the end, be the most competitive.”

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