Question marks for Plum

2010-01-09 00:00

JUST one week into 2010 and Sharks head coach John Plumtree has already had to drastically revise his plans for the looming Super 14 season.

The back injury that has forced the gifted flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez to pack his bags and return to Argentina has hurt Plumtree where it hurts most. In plotting his way forward in 2010, Plumtree had a potentially world-class halfback pairing with Ruan Pienaar happily back in his favoured scrumhalf position alongside a setttled Hernandez.

The King’s Park crowds saw only glimpses of the Argentinian’s array of talents as the flyhalf, one of the stars of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, battled to find his feet in a new environment and overcome niggling injury. But in the last game of the season, against Free State in the frustrating Currie Cup semi-final, he made a strong impression on attack and defence.

“The loss of Juan is a great disappointment,” Plumtree said this week. “He was an integral part of our backline and his development and integration in the team was set to reach new heights during this year’s Super 14 after he spent the last six months with the squad.

“He was the consummate professional who was well liked by his team-mates. In turn, he embraced the culture of the Sharks with relish and enjoyed his stay with us immensely.

“We will certainly miss him as a player and as a true gentleman of the game.”

Finding an adequate replacement for Hernandez this late in the day will not be easy. The Argentinian, in his pomp, is a flyhalf for all conditions, a prodigious kicker, but an alert attacker. Plumtree may well have to turn to Pienaar again if Monty Dumond does not take the huge step up from Currie Cup level.

While the Sharks’ Springboks all reported back for duty this week, injuries are already a concern.

Plumtree is hoping that Pienaar will be over his knee surgery by the Super 14 opener against Chiefs in Durban on February 13. But exciting new signing Louis Ludik will not. The former Lions wing and fullback, who missed much of last season with a knee injury, underwent a second operation in December and he will only be back some weeks into the Super 14.

Plumtree, seeking some spark from his backline, has suggested that Ludik could be used at outside centre, but that would obviously depend on the form of players like Adrian Jacobs and Waylon Murray.

Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford said this week that the big, bustling Murray is over all his injury problems of last year “and is looking good, as is Jacobs”.

“The Boks and a couple of players who missed our pre-season before the Christmas break are training separately from the rest of the squad and catching up on conditioning and fitness,” said Bashford.

Bok lock Johann Muller, another who battled injury last season, has also recovered well, said Bashford “though he has now picked up a slight hamstring strain”.

The massive Willem Alberts, the 120 kg Lions number eight, is also with the Sharks squad.

“He has lost a couple of kilos and is looking really strong. He will certainly add to the competition for places in our backrow,” said Bashford.

The Sharks play two pre-season friendlies — against the Stormers and Western Force — in four days in Cape Town at the end of the month.

And by then they hope to have solved their flyhalf problem.

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