Sharks not proud of performance

2011-10-31 00:00

THE Sharks, rich in experience and adorned with Test caps, were mugged by “ordinary players” in Johannesburg on Saturday evening and coach John Plumtree readily conceded that the Golden Lions deserved to walk away from the final with the Currie Cup.

Most observers predicted a tight contest between the individually-talented Sharks and the settled, consistent Lions. In the end, it was hardly a race and the Sharks were thumped 42-16. Plumtree was generous in defeat, conceding his players had been beaten in almost every area of the game.

Mind you, he could have said little else. The 26-point winning margin was the biggest in three decades of Currie Cup finals and the Lions scored three tries to the disputed one by the Sharks. Plumtree’s players, nearly half of whom were at the Rugby World Cup, had the advantage in territory and possession but they could make little impact on the scoreboard even when their opponents were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes. Still, the Sharks coach did take the defeat on the chin.

“It was disappointing that we didn’t capitalise on the momentum we had in the first half, especially when they had 14 men.”

But he refused to look for excuses or scapegoats. “The media makes a big thing about the Springboks but it’s not easy this time of the season. You certainly cannot blame our Boks. They helped us reach the final. We were just outplayed by a better side. It’s been a long season and there’s some wear and tear after a lot of rugby.

“But I don’t want to use anything as an excuse, I don’t want to take anything away from the Lions.

“They deserve the trophy. They’re a very good side and they have learned how to be disciplined. The Lions are back. They’ve kept the momentum going in the competition and benefited from not having Springboks coming and going. It was one game too far for us.”

Plumtree said that the plan had been to take an early lead to create doubt among the Lions.

“But we could not do that. They defended outstandingly, attacked well, and their kicking was brilliant while our discipline was not good enough. You put all that together and there is only going to be one result because once they got in front, their support here was never going to let them down.”

Plumtree said the players were hurting after the defeat and no one was proud of his performance.

“John Mitchell asked his players to step up after beating Western Province in the semi-final, and he got that, which was not difficult given the hostile environment for the visiting team. Winning a Currie Cup final away from home is always very difficult, and all the more so when the team you are playing has better cohesion in every department.”

Doppies la Grange, who took over as Lions captain after Josh Strauss left the field in the second half with concussion, paid tribute to Mitchell.

“He took over a bunch of ordinary players and has now turned them into champions,” he said. “I told the players to stay calm after that [controversial] try was scored against us.

“Our game plan is built on self-confidence and once we have that, we can be dangerous,” said La Grange.

Mitchell said it had been an ambition to fill Ellis Park when he took over as coach 16 months ago.

“I’m very pleased for the boys, they stayed very calm. To fill the corners of Ellis Park is a tribute to these guys and a dream I have had. It’s a very simple, very accountable programme we have here. If you work hard, anything is possible.

“The defence was very calm and the guys have matured a lot.”

Mitchell said the heavy defeat by the Sharks in Durban (53-9) a fortnight earlier had helped the squad.

“We didn’t enjoy the hiding in Durban and it wasn’t planned at all. But it was ideal for us and it allowed us to grow the squad and freshen up some players.”

Keegan Daniel, the Sharks captain, was equally gracious in defeat.

“The Lions were without a doubt the better team and they worthy winners of the Currie Cup. We’re disappointed we didn’t convert pressure into points but you can’t win finals with the ill-discipline we showed.

“Getting to a final is one thing, but you need to produce a great game, which we couldn’t do.

“But the Lions were phenomenal.”

The only thing to go missing for the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday night was captain Josh Strauss’s flowing black beard. The Lions captain had promised his Cape Town girlfriend he would cultivate the growth until they were reunited but it did not survive the celebrations and Strauss was given a close shave by his team-mates at the post-match dinner.

There will now be at least one Lions player able to move about Johannesburg this week incognito — but he might be looking for a girlfriend.

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