Sharks’ awesome foursome

2009-01-08 00:00

HEAD coach John Plumtree has imported Australian rugby league legend Andrew Johns to help polish the playmaking skills of the Sharks ahead of the Super 14.

The name Johns will mean nothing to South African audiences but in international rugby league the 34-year-old, who retired last year because of a serious neck injury, is an icon, the Naas Botha of Australia but only bigger.

The 90kg halfback (a flyhalf in the rugby union game) Johns is considered by many critics one of the greatest players of all time, and was hailed as the world’s best for a number of years.

In 2008 Johns was named as the ‘Best Player of the Last 30 Years’ by Rugby League Week and the halfback of Rugby League’s Team of the Century.

Johns announced his retirement from rugby league on in April 2007 at the age of 32 following a long run of injuries, the last of which was a bulging disc in his neck and he was at risk of serious spinal injury.

This, then, is the talent that Plumtree has brought to help the playmakers (Ruan Pienaar, Francois Steyn, Rory Kockott and company) at the Sharks.

Johns, who answers to the curious nickname of Barge-Arse (you ask him), is with the Sharks for five days this week.

“He has been very good,” said Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford yesterday, “and the players have enjoyed working with him.”

Bashford said the Australian had been concentrating on the playmaking at scrumhalf and flyhalf.

“Much of the work is very subtle but basically it is learning ways of breaking down, or confusing, the modern defences. There is a lot of deception involved with dummy runners but it is all aimed at manipulating defences.”

Bashford said in the days ahead Johns would be concentrating on tactical kicking – “which has become very big in league rugby” – and defence.

“It’s all about increasing the skills base and Johns has done that.”

The Sharks have a second coach from down under, New Zealander Chris Boyd. In contrast to Johns, he is in Durban for the whole ride and he is a vastly-experienced coach.

Boyd worked with Plumtree at Wellington and helped in the development of All Black backline players Ma’a Nonu, Cory Jane, Piri Weepu and Conrad Smith.

Boyd boasts nearly 20 years of experience and he will join Grant Bashford as an assistant coach to Plumtree.

“Chris arrived late last year and he has now been with the players for 22 days. He has plenty of experience in all areas but will concentrate on improving the attacking play of the backs. It is just good to get fresh ideas from people who know what they are talking about.”

Boyd said he had jumped at the chance to coach with Plumtree at the Sharks.

“There’s obviously a fantastic team environment here at the Sharks and the players want to do well.”

The challenge, he said, was transforming the obvious individual backline talents of the Sharks into a collective unit.

Bashford, now in his fourth year with the Sharks, also welcomed the addition of Boyd to the Sharks’ coaching staff.

“It is important that Plum surrounds himself with assistants he can be comfortable with and trust and he knows Chris well. There is so much jealousy and competition between coaches worldwide so it is important having the coaching staff pulling in the same direction.”

“It is also good for the coaches as we learn off one another and bounce ideas off each other.”

Plumtree said he would also be using former Springbok prop Balie Swart as a scrum coach during the Super 14.

The Sharks open their Super 14 campaign against the Stormers in Cape Town on February 14.

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