Sharks must contain Sonny Bill

2011-06-22 00:00

COACH John Plumtree is convinced that containing the Crusaders’midfield threat of Dan Carter, Sonny Bill Williams and Robbie Fruean will be key to the Sharks’ chances of an upset Super Rugby quarter-final win in Nelson on Saturday.

The creative Crusaders backs played a major role in their 44-28 win over the Sharks in their round robin game in London in March.

Plumtree, speaking shortly before the Sharks were scheduled to leave Durban on the long haul to New Zealand, said he will be highlighting the importance of the midfield battle this week.

“We will show them a video of what we got wrong at Twickenham. A big part of that was the ability of Carter, Williams and Fruean to shift the ball into space, either by hand or kicking.

“That is central to their game. Sonny Bill is key for them in the midfield in terms of getting them across the advantage line and the continuity he provides. So we have to make sure Meyer [Bosman], Stefan [Terblanche] and Freddie [Michalak], and whoever comes off the bench, do the job.”

Plumtree said the foundation of the Crusaders’ game is the scrum.

“The Crusaders are a good scrummaging side. They have a very short front row and they pack low. We have a pretty good front row ourselves, but will need to scrum a lot better than we did against the Bulls.

“It’s going to be a big area for us, and something we will focus on in training this week. If you contain the Crusaders’ scrum and look after them defensively then anything can happen.”

Plumtree has added tighthead prop Eugene van Staden, experienced flank Jacques Botes and wing Odwa Ndungane to 21 players who did duty at Loftus, with a reserve backrower, the 20-year-old Marcell Coetzee, dropping out of the squad.

“The fitness situation is good,” said Plumtree. “Steven Sykes [lock] hasn’t passed a fitness test and he would have been handy in those conditions, but Alistair Hargreaves played well on the weekend and Gerhard Mostert was outstanding.

“If those two can come up with big performances, I’ll be really happy, and then we have the experienced Ross Skeate coming off the bench.”

The Sharks’ New-Zealand-born coach is expecting the game to be played in wet, cold conditions.

“The weather is not so good at this time of the year in New Zealand and the forecast is not great for this weekend. But you expect that and you just have to play to the conditions. We have the forward pack that can compete and that will be critical if it’s wet and cold there.

“Freddie [Michalak] can control the game, we have Pat Lambie’s kicking game at the back as well, so as long as we defend really well our set-piece functions and we make sure that territory is in our favour, you never know what can happen.”

But, Plumtree emphasised, the Sharks’ biggest hurdle “is just getting there, getting ready and getting over the jet lag”.

“We don’t have a lot of time, so how we prepare when we arrive is crucial to how we play on Saturday.”

The excellent weekend win over the Bulls at Loftus has given the squad belief, he said.

“I don’t think too many sides in the competition could have done what we did at Loftus, considering the emotion around their senior players leaving, the capacity crowd of 50 000 and the knock-out nature of the game.

“It was a huge game for them and if we can take the confidence from that win across to New Zealand, and apply it for 80 minutes, you never know what can happen. But it’s how we get over the long trip across that’s going to be important.”

Plumtree does not see the absence of All Black captain and flank Richie McCaw as a major concern for the Crusaders.

“They haven’t had Richie for a lot of their campaign, so they won’t be too worried about that. They have enough leaders in that side and they will have Sonny Bill back, which is a huge boost.”

Saturday’s game kicks off at 9.35 am.

SHARKS TRAVELLING SQUAD OF 24

Forwards (14): Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, John Smit, Wiehahn Herbst, Eugene van Staden, Gerhard Mostert, Alistair Hargreaves, Ross Skeate, Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Jacques Botes.

Backs (10): Charl McLeod, Frederic Michalak, Lwazi Mvovo, Meyer Bosman, Stefan Terblanche, JP Pietersen, Patrick Lambie, Adrian Jacobs, Louis Ludik, Odwa Ndungane.

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