Plumtree rooting for Lions

2011-04-16 00:00

IT IS a long shot — considering recent history and form — but John Plumtree is hoping that his good mate John Mitchell, now the Lions coach, can do the Sharks a favour by plotting the Stormers’ downfall in the Super Rugby derby at Ellis Park this evening.

Plumtree and his Sharks, on their weekend bye, will be feet-up and earning four log points while watching the Stormers and Lions trade bruises in Johannesburg today.

This will take them to 29 points and tied with the Stormers at the top of the South African conference if the Cape Town franchise fail to win at Ellis Park.

Of course that would be a major upset. The teams are at opposite ends of the table with the Stormers having lost just once this season, while the Lions have only one win in eight games.

Plumtree has ruffled some feathers in Cape Town and Pretoria for daring to admit that he was supporting Antipodean opponents when they played against the Stormers and Bulls last weekend.

The South African teams were beaten and provided the Sharks with a hefty boost on the log.

“I certainly don’t like it and it feels uncomfortable, cheering for teams from New Zealand and Australia when they are playing South Africans. I never ever thought I would ever support the Crusaders, but I’m afraid that’s the nature of this competition and when you have teams in the three conferences competing against each other,” said Plumtree.

“But if we want to challenge for the title, we can’t rely on other teams. We need to control our own destiny,” he added.

Plumtree said the Crusaders remain the benchmark for the chasing pack.

“That’s going to be the challenge, to get into a position to have a real crack at the end of the competition,” he said.

Both Plumtree and captain John Smit emphasised the need to keep improving.

“If you want to win the competition, you need to keep lifting your performances and that’s the message I’m throwing at the players all the time. If we are to kick on and do some damage in this tournament, there is work to do in some areas,” he added.

The Sharks coach said that he has been encouraged by the players’ defence.

“The Lions didn’t look like scoring any tries against us and we conceded only one against the Stormers. We changed our defence pattern a bit and that has helped us a lot,” he said.

Smit said the players had been “angered” by their loss to the Stormers and they had lifted their performance against the Lions.

“It is a good time for a week’s break and it will do us the world of good, but there is some work to do if we want to be contenders. We’ve got to get accurate from launch, we need to clean up a few small details and improve every week. I think freshening up for a week will help that,” Smit said.

Lions coach Mitchell agreed that the Sharks would have to lift the quality of their rugby to challenge for the title.

“The crucial factor is to get into the right position on the log. From there, the competition will be won by the toughest team mentally. Everyone can beat anyone on their day, but the tougher teams can go up a gear when they need to,” said Mitchell.

“I know Plum well enough, and I think you’ll see improvement in the Sharks side,” he added.

The Sharks will return from their bye in pole position if the Lions somehow pull off an Ellis Park upset. They would have the advantage of playing all their remaining games in South Africa while the Capetonians still have to tour down under for four games.

But the Stormers, with their strong Springbok presence and an a stingy defence, will be strong favourites to win at Ellis Park tonight and this will leave the Sharks having to win at Newlands in a fortnight if they are draw level.

Willem Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis, Alistair Hargeaves and Keegan Daniel have been impressive all season, but a number of other Sharks have started to make an impact. JP Pietersen was a powerful, threatening presence on the wing against the Lions and there were suggestions that Adi Jacobs, with the backing of Peter de Villiers and the incentive of a World Cup spot — is regaining his touch.

The return of Pat Lambie from injury against the Hurricanes next week should solve the goal-kicking problem while bringing some attacking rhythm and composure to the backplay.

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