Sharks’ mental strength the key

2010-04-26 00:00

THE Sharks will almost certainly be without their Springbok wing JP Pietersen when they take on the Bulls, the Super 14 log-leaders and champions, at Loftus on Saturday.

Pietersen left the field with a knee injury during Saturday evening’s torrid 23-10 win over the Auckland Blues and head coach John Plumtree says the wing is likely to be out for the rest of the Super 14.

“Yeah, JP tweaked his knee. The injury has still to be assessed but with only three weeks to go we probably won’t see him again in this Super 14.”

The loss of Pietersen, although he is playing below his best, is a major setback for the Sharks who are short of pace, penetration and panache among the outside backs.

Plumtree is confident that flyhalf Andy Goode, who was injured in the second half, would be ready for Loftus.

Ruan Pienaar switched to flyhalf when Goode left the field with Rory Kockott taking over at the base of the scrum. He made a strong impression while also booting two awkward penalties to take the Sharks clear.

Plumtree was delighted with the sharpness shown by Kockott.

“I thought Rory was great this week. He was crap last week (against the Lions) when he came off the bench and he won’t mind me saying that.”

The Sharks may be winning but they are going nowehere fast and remain bogged down in mid-table.

Their weekend win continued their remarkable run against the Blues and they have now beaten the formidable Auckland franchise six times on the trot.

But they are no closer to challenging for a semi-final spot. The Sharks, before they started their impressive run against the Highlanders in Dunedin on March 20, were in 11th place on the log. Today, on the back of five wins on successive weekends, they have only advanced to joint eighth spot where they are caught in a mid-log jam and are still nine log points behind the fourth-placed team (Queensland Reds).

“It is hugely frustrating seeing the points table,” said Plumtree. “I think it was really important that we evened up the slate with five wins in a row but here we are still floating around in the bottom half.

“It is so disappointing that we stuffed up our season with those early losses (to the Chiefs and Cheetahs) at home.”

The Sharks coach said that the most positive feature of Saturday’s win was that the players executed the game plan.

“That was really pleasing. There were a few opportunities to score tries which we didn’t nail but we did place the Blues under a fair bit of pressure. It was frustrating that we didn’t get more reward.”

Plumtree said the Blues should be praised for their efforts.

“They were also hungry for the win and their defence was big. They knew they had to look after our big runners (Jean Deysel, Willem Albert, Bismarck d Plessis and John Smit) and we did throw everything at them. But they stopped us and we obviously had to find another way to win.”

The Sharks’ plan was to dominate territory for large parts of the game to force the Blues to run from deep “and we managed to do that.”

Plumtree said that the Sharks’ mental strength had brought about the change of fortunes.

“When you lose consistently, as we did in the first five rounds, many things go including confidence. But when you start winning the old belief comes back and that’s the big difference.”

Against the Blues, with the most dangerous backline in the Super 14, the Sharks had concentrated on stopping their momentum.

“If we could succeed in that area, that would nullify their go-forward out wide as well.What we did around the rucks, including stopping scrumhalf Alby Mathewson, was crucial, and the guys deserve credit.

“When they did get some momentum they showed how dangerous they can be, but intensity in the tackle was key. We put in a lot of big hits which you have to do against the Kiwi teams because if you’re soft in the collision areas, they will dominate you.

“We worked on our tackle technique but it still had to be executed properly and the players did that.”

Plumtree said his job now was to keep the excitement levels down ahead of the Bulls game in Pretoria on Saturday night.

“We don’t want to start the build-up too early for what will be a big game.”

Pat Lam, the Blues coach, praised the Sharks for effectively closing down his players, particularly in the last quarter.

“We’re disappointed with the result, obviously, but we turned over too much ball. We put in the effort but teams will punish you if you don’t look after your possession.”

He said the defence had been “huge” on both sides.

“We had two teams desperate to win and it was a very passionate, physical game. There are some pretty sore boys on both sides.

“It all came down to the pressure applied by the Sharks defence and they forced us into making a few too many mistakes,” said Lam.

 

See page 19 for Super 14 round-up.

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