Sharks chasing a hat-trick

2012-10-22 00:00

SHARKS coach John Plumtree was wearing the most satisfied of smiles on Saturday evening and with every reason.

Plumtree’s plan had come together beautifully as his players emphatically downed the Blue Bulls 20-3 to advance to their fourth Currie Cup final — 2008, 2010, 2011 and now 2012 — in five years, and they now face Western Province at King’s Park on Saturday evening in the climax to the season.

Plumtree will be chasing a hat-trick of titles after the Sharks beat the Blue Bulls and Western Province in the finals of 2008 and 2010.

Province advanced to this weekend’s final by just trumping the title-holding Golden Lions 21-16 in the last seconds in the semi-final at Ellis Park on Saturday night.

It has been a remarkable couple of months for Plumtree and his Sharks. Less than three months ago they came from nowhere to compete for the Super Rugby trophy and now they host the plum Currie Cup play-off on home turf.

“Yeah, it’s been an amazing year. To be in a Super Rugby final and three months later host a Currie Cup final is really great. It’s a year I won’t forget. We still have 80 minutes to play, but I am very proud of how hard everyone has worked.”

Plumtree admits he was feeling the pressure.

“I’m absolutely exhausted. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to host a final. It means a lot to so many people, for us here at the Sharks, for the supporters and for the city. There is huge hype.”

He said he had been concerned about the way he had integrated the Springboks back into system, leaving a couple of Test players on the bench.

“It is never easy. With this outcome [the win over the Bulls], I guess it was right, but it’s not easy for the players or me. Now we can look forward to good preparation this week and all the players have now been involved and will feel part of the team again.”

Plumtree said he had wanted to show confidence in the young players who had helped the Sharks to the top of the log.

“I had choices and showed some confidence in the guys and they enjoyed that. Maybe I’m maturing as a coach by backing the players and perhaps worrying less.”

The Sharks, as expected, played with far more ambition than the Bulls, who were reluctant to take any chances in the wet, slippery conditions.

Plumtree said he felt that the Sharks could have played even more rugby, rather than kicking as much as they did.

“We obviously would have preferred to play on a dry day and at times we got caught between kicking and playing and that was probably because of the conditions. I thought the Bulls were a bit confused as well.

“I was particularly pleased with the 20 minute period before half-time, but after that our lineout didn’t really function and we didn’t do too much attacking. It was really just about defence and kicking the penalties, typical finals rugby.”

The Sharks coach said that the emphasis had been on discipline and defence. The hosts won the penalty count 15-8 (and four of the Bulls’ tally came in the closing minutes when the contest was over) and the Sharks did not concede a try.

“We exerted pressure and were rewarded with the penalties,” said Plumtree. “The Bulls will be disappointed with that, but we spoke about not giving away dumb penalties.”

The Sharks coach said that Lambie’s influence has been “huge” but also praised the efforts of scrumhalf Cobus Reinach — “the find of the season” — and fullback Louis Ludik “who has been absolutely superb.”

He said that Willem Alberts and Beast Mtawarira had made the expected late impact.

“There were no injuries. Jannie du Plessis took a bump to the head, but he is now happy and smiling.”

Meanwhile, WP coach Allister Coetzee is already talking up the Sharks ahead of the final.

“We will be playing against the best side in South Africa in the final. The Sharks are an unbelievable side. To hold out the Bulls to get only three points is quite telling and it will take an extraordinary effort to beat them.

“We will need probably all 22 players to be on the field at the same time,” he added.

While the Sharks (and Lambie) flourished, it was a forgettable day for the Bulls — and Morné Steyn.

The Springbok flyhalf’s frustration showed in the final act of the game when he cynically felled Ludik with a swinging arm to the face.

Had it happened earlier in the game, and not on the final whistle, he would surely have been yellow-carded, but it did sum up the Bulls’ evening of ill-discipline.

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