Plumtree’s flyhalf dilemma

2010-03-24 00:00

SHARKS head coach John Plumtree is facing a flyhalf dilemma as he looks ahead to Saturday’s Super 14 clash against his old Hurricanes team in Wellington.

Plumtree has been fielding Andy Goode at flyhalf on their tour of the Antipodes, but the Englishman, who picked up a hamstring strain in the warm-up to the weekend win over the Highlanders, had a poor first half before he was benched.

With Ruan Pienaar moving from scrumhalf to flyhalf and replacement Rory Kockott at the base of the scrum, the Sharks had more rhythm on attack in the second half, and Plumtree may opt to start with the pair against the Hurricanes.

But the Sharks coach is reluctant to switch Pienaar away from his preferred position at scrumhalf again unless it is on a permanent basis.

Goode, more of a tactical kicker than a running flyhalf, may be Plumtree’s choice for a game that seems certain to be played in a typical wet, windy Wellington — but his fitness could be the deciding factor.

Goode’s contractual position with the Sharks remains unclear. The Sharks end their marathon five-match tour of Australasia on Saturday and play their remaining six games in South Africa.

Sharks commercial manager Rudolf Straeuli is working on obtaining a work permit for the Englishman for the remainder of the Super 14 season, and Plumtree apparently wants to keep Goode on board even if the Sharks are no longer in contention.

If Goode is not involved, young Pat Lambie must be an obvious candidate for flyhalf, but the Sharks have also not given up on Butch James.

Ever since the Sharks lost Juan Hernandez and then Steve Meyer on the eve of the Super 14, they have been in touch with just about every self-respecting flyhalf in world rugby, and this includes James, who is currently playing for Bath in England.

The former Bok and Sharks flyhalf is keen to return to Durban in a bid to qualify for the Rugby World Cup next year.

However, Bath have him under contract until 2012 and they are looking for a massive transfer fee.

Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl said yesterday that “a whole lot of water has to pass under the bridge before we can even contemplate getting Butch back”.

Straeuli has confirmed he has been speaking to Bath, but said that the Sharks will need the support of the SA Rugby Union and sponsors to bring James home.

Whether the Sharks can obtain that commitment — with James battling injury, and when Bok coach Peter de Villiers already has a proven match-winning flyhalf in Morné Steyn — remains to be seen.

James recently returned from another long layoff following knee surgery, and immediately showed excellent form for Bath before going down with a shoulder injury.

Meanwhile, the Sharks are gearing up for a massive battle against the Hurricanes, who returned to Wellington yesterday from their unsuccessful tour of South Africa. “It is going to be extremely competitive,” said Plumtree, referring to Saturday’s game.

“The Hurricanes and coach Colin Cooper are a proud bunch, and they are not going to be too pleased to have lost three games in a row in South Africa,” he added.

Saturday’s game kicks off at 8.35 am. Super 14 reserve panel referee, Australian Ian Smith, will handle the game.

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