Plumtree faces test of mixing skills with influx of Springboks to Sharks side

2008-09-01 00:00

JOHN Plumtree has already shown that he is one of the premier rugby coaches in the country, but the New Zealander faces a test of his mixing and matching skills this week ahead of the crunch Currie Cup match against the Blue Bulls at King’s Park on Saturday.

The two teams, at the top of the Currie Cup log, have a host of Springboks returning to provincial duty this week and Plumtree, in particular, will have a tough task shoehorning them into a confident Sharks line-up.

Plumtree could have as many as 10 Boks back in the Sharks camp this week. The news from the Bok camp last night was that national coach Peter de Villiers is looking to Plumtree and company to “manage the Boks correctly”.

The indications are that most of the Test players will see action at King’s Park on Saturday.

The Bulls have Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Danie Rossouw, Pierre Spies and, if he is over his hamstring strain, Bryan Habana back from national duty.

The Sharks’ list is even longer. Props Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis, hooker Bismarck du Plessis, utility backs Francois Steyn and Ruan Pienaar, centre Adrian Jacobs and wings JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane are returning, while number eight Ryan Kankowski and lock Johann Muller are also expected to be back at training this week.

Of course, Plumtree will not use all of them. Mtawarira, who was bothered by a shoulder injury in Saturday’s Test, looks certain to be rested, while there remain doubts about the match fitness of Pietersen, Steyn and Kankowski.

Still, Plumtree has any number of options with depth in every position. Pienaar could certainly start at scrumhalf, Steyn or Brad Barritt could partner Adrian Jacobs in midfield, and Ndungane will obviously return on the wing.

The Du Plessis brothers could join Deon Carstens in a potent front-row with Muller back at lock.

And that is Plumtree’s problem, whether to only tinker slightly with a unit which is operating smoothly or risk disruption by making half-a-dozen changes to accommodate the Springboks.

“That’s what you want,” Plumtree told the Sharks website, “competition for places. You can’t penalise players for being Springboks, that’s always been my attitude. The challenge for them is to come back and fit in with the team dynamic. We will integrate them as long as they are fit and they’re ready to go.”

Plumtree said he was delighted with the 41-7 win over Boland in the atrocious conditions of Wellington on Friday.

“The conditions were a real leveller, but I was proud of the way we stuck to our structures and we were really accurate at the breakdowns. It is an area we have been working really hard on.”

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