Sharks fight to regain form

2011-06-08 00:00

THE Sharks have played 14 Super Rugby matches this year, and are lying in a handy fifth place on the log, but coach John Plumtree remains “genuinely concerned” at their lack of form.

The Sharks face the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday and need to win to remain on course for the play-offs.

Plumtree, reflecting on the weekend win over the Cheetahs at his weekly media briefing yesterday, said that the Sharks were simply “not playing well enough.”

“It’s a genuine concern and there are some basic principles of the game we are not achieving. We’re playing too much rugby behind the advantage line and in the wrong areas of the field,” he said.

The coach said that when they tightened up those areas “our game will get going”.

“We’ve changed our attacking strategies slightly, but it’s really about being tactically a bit more savvy.”

The modern game, he said, was about the players’ willingness and ability to carry the ball across the advantage line.

“We haven’t been doing that effectively of late.”

Plumtree said the Sharks had concentrated on a number of areas at practice over the past two days.

“There are lots of little things we need to put right. There needs to be more desire, more patience, making sure we play in the right areas and work harder off the ball. There needs to be greater urgency in supporting the ball-carrier.

“There are things we aren’t doing properly. We’ve addressed all of that and now it’s really a case of the players going out and doing that. That’s certainly been the focus this week.”

The Sharks coach said he was concerned about the fitness of the big back-rower Willem Alberts.

“We’re monitoring Alberts, who is carrying a bit of a shoulder injury he picked up in the last couple of minutes in the Cheetahs game and we’ll only make a decision on him on Thursday [tomorrow].”

Compounding the Sharks’ backrow problem is that Jean Deysel, a powerful, hard-driving forward in the Alberts’ mould, has been injured for most of the year and is now on a two-week suspension.

“Willem is the highest ball-carrier in the competition. He’s done a lot of the work for us and we have missed the luxury of having Jean Deysel. Bismarck [Du Plessis] has also been doing a lot, but the emphasis must be on everyone taking responsibility to carry the ball up.”

If there are only one or two ball-carriers, said Plumtree, the defenders can concentrate on them..

“It’s really about getting flow and motion into our attack and, when we get that, we look pretty good.”

Plumtree again highlighted the role played by captain and loosehead prop John Smit in Bloemfontein.

“I thought he played really well on the weekend. He scrummed strongly and it obviously helped having a heavier lock [Gerhard Mostert] behind him. WP Nel is not the worst tighthead in the competition and I thought John went well.”

The Sharks coach said that Smit had been out for three or four weeks with a calf strain when he brought him back for the previous match against the Waratahs.

“They have a big pack and he struggled, but so did the whole front-row. Eugene van Staden (tighthead) also had a hard day against Ben Robinson. But now John has a couple of games under the belt, he will be even better this week.”

Plumtree also praised the influence which new signing Frederic Michalak — he arrived in Durban from France last Thursday — was already having on the squad: “He’s down a little on his fitness, but he’s only 28 and he’ll quickly pick it up. He reads the game so well and we’re looking forward to see what he brings to the team. We can play him at nine [scrumhalf] or 10 [flyhalf], but his experience will be invaluable.”

Plumtree said that Michalak has a calming influence on the players around him: “It really is great to have a player of his calibre …”

Sharks team doctor Ewoudt van der Linde told The Witness yesterday that Alberts was the only new injury concern.

Only wing Odwa Ndungane is definitely out for Saturday and prop Jannie du Plessis, who has been out with a knee ligament strain, could be back.

“We’ll test him tomorrow [today],” said Plumtree “but I won’t risk him if he is not fully fit.”

The Sharks face the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday and the match will kick off at 4.05 pm. Marius Jonker will again referee the game.

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