Sharks: ‘It’s time to step up’

2011-05-25 00:00

COACH John Plumtree yesterday conceded that the Sharks, playing for their Super Rugby lives, will be under fierce pressure to keep winning over the next month.

The Reds (54 points), Blues (50), Stormers (48) and Crusaders (48) are well-placed to reach the play-offs, but, Plumtree added, there are four other teams vying for places five and six, the remaining two slots.They are the Waratahs (45), Highlanders (43), Sharks (43) and Bulls (40).

The Sharks meet the Waratahs at King’s Park on Saturday in a must-win encounter.

“The players know that we can’t afford to drop another one,” said Plumtree. “The four teams aiming for fifth and sixth on the log have all been inconsistent this year, but it’s going to be the side that holds their nerve and plays the best rugby that kicks on.

“We’ve only got one more home game [on Saturday] and then three away [against the Cheetahs, Lions and Bulls], so our challenge is pretty great.”

Plumtree said that the Waratahs would also be tested, both on Saturday in Durban and then against the Bulls in Pretoria the following weekend. “If the Waratahs lose these two, then they’ll be out,” he added.

The Bulls play the Cheetahs this weekend and also have to travel to Cape Town to play the Stormers.

“The Highlanders also have a few tough games [away to the Blues and the Waratahs], so it won’t be easy for any of these four teams.

“That’s the great thing about his competition. We are four games from the finish and eight teams are in play-off contention. That’s great for everyone, except the coaches, I guess.”

The Sharks, down in spirits, low in confidence and now hit by injuries to prop Jannie du Plessis and wing Odwa Ndungane, have somehow to lift their level of performance over the next four weekends.

Ndungane will miss the rest of the league season after breaking his hand against the Bulls, while Du Plessis, as expected, will also be out for a month with knee ligament damage.

“It is a setback losing both Jannie and Odwa,” said Plumtree.

“They’ve both been playing pretty well, especially Odwa who has been one of our form backs this year. But we have Lwazi Mvovo and Eugene van Staden so we’ll still have a decent side.” He said that

Centre Adi Jacobs, who hurt an ankle in the opening minute of the game, and lock Steven Sykes will face fitness tests tomorrow. The Sharks will be boosted by the return of Springbok captain and front-rower John Smit from injury and flank Keegan Daniel from suspension.

Plumtree said that there was massive disappointment in the Sharks squad after the weekend loss to the Bulls.

“The players are certainly down after again dropping home games against our two biggest rivals [the Stormers and Bulls].”

The Sharks held a series of meetings on Monday to discuss their failings. “Yes, there has been a lot of self-analysis and some stuff we’re keeping internal, but certainly we’re looking for a better performance this week.”

He said there had been particular frustration at allowing the Bulls to build an early and substantial lead.

“They could then play their style of rugby based on territory. They drove us and we gave away penalties and they managed to keep the scoreboard ticking over.”

The Sharks, having to chase the game, had to play from every area on the field. “The Bulls actually made 78 tackles more than us, but that didn’t matter in the end because they were clearly up for it. They defended and scrambled really well defensively.”

And, of course, the Sharks helped dig their own grave by making a string of basic handling errors. “The basic error rate is something you can’t coach,” said Plumtree.

“The players know how to catch and pass. I know that was the question being asked after Saturday. What happened? And that’s what the players have to answer as a group.”

Plumtree said the many handling mistakes probably resulted from a number of factors: the pressure applied by the Bulls, the Sharks’ lack of composure and certain players’ loss of form. But, the Sharks coach added, defence is about commitment and attitude and working for each other.

“Allowing the Bulls to score two tries in the first 15 minutes from three phases is clearly disappointing from our perspective. We know how to play the Bulls, but we couldn’t contain them when we have in the past. And that made the defeat even more painful. This whole competition is about pressure and the players now have to step up.”

Saturday’s game kicks off at 5.05pm.

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