Sharks romp to 10-try victory, but can still improve

2008-10-06 00:00

THERE were lessons, one in each half, for the Sharks at King’s Park on Saturday as they cemented their place at the top of the Currie Cup log at the weekend.

While the other contenders took a bumpy road to the semi-finals, the Sharks continued their smooth build-up with a 10-try romp and 66-12 win over the Griquas.

The Sharks secured a home semi-final against the fourth-placed Lions and will also be back in Durban for the final if they advance. The Blue Bulls are at home to Free State in the other semi-final and form and home ground advantage suggest a repeat of the 2006 Super 14 final between the Sharks and the Bulls at King’s Park.

While the Sharks, with a full-strength squad, were never tested by Griquas, the other leading Currie Cup teams had uncomfortable weekends. The Blue Bulls chose their B team against the last-placed Falcons and only squeaked home by two points; Free State leaked 40 points in beating Boland in Bloemfontein and the Lions were beaten 14-6 by Western Province at Newlands. The Lions successfully denied Province the four tries and 19-point winning margin needed, and the Cape Town team went out of the Currie Cup, beaten on the field and in the boardroom, where their appeal against Free State failed.

Plumtree said he will only know in a week whether the Sharks had indeed enjoyed the “perfect dress rehearsal” for the play-offs.

He has a couple of problems, one caused by injury and the other in selection.

The injury to lanky lock Albert van den Berg came minutes into the second half and after a moment of mindless rugby by JP Pietersen.

The wing, who is back to playing his best rugby and showing remarkable pace, burst through Griquas and a simple pass to supporting flank Jacques Botes would have provided an easy try. Instead, Pietersen tried to beat the final Griqua tackle and, in the hectic scramble which followed, Van den Berg went down with a damaged shoulder in scoring the try.

Plumtree’s preferred pair at lock is Johann Muller and Steven Sykes, but he needs the cover of Van den Berg off the bench, particularly as Alistair Hargreaves is out with a calf injury.

Plumtree said he could face “a lock crisis”, but he was hoping that the injury to Van den Berg was not serious and that he would be ready for the semi-finals on Saturday.

Plumtree’s other problem will be in deciding between Keegan Daniel and Jacques Botes as his breakaway flank. Botes has been in excellent form this year, but has been relatively quiet in recent weeks — just at a time when Daniel’s star is rising. Daniel was named man-of-the-match on Saturday, running from first to last, scoring three tries — although the second should have been disallowed by the television referee because his arm was in touch — and staying in the Griqua faces throughout.

Plumtree paid tribute to his players for “finishing top of the Currie Cup after 18 long weeks”.

“There was a time,” he said, “when you won a trophy for that [the Currie Cup].”

As a sop to the sponsors, the league competition now becomes a knock-out and Plumtree said the Sharks are aware that all the heroics of the past few weks would mean nothing if the Sharks do not win their rext two games.

He was enthusiastic about the rugby the Sharks played in the first half.

“We were expecting more of Griquas, but we blew them out of the water in the first 25 minutes [as the Sharks scored four tries] when we were sharp and clinical.”

The Sharks went walkabout in the second half as Plumtree threw on all his replacements and their shape and structure went missing.

“It was always going to be difficult to match the intensity of the first quarter when the game was over and I made a lot of changes which did not help.”

Griqua scrumhalf Sarel Pretoroius, who scored Griquas’ first try from an intercept and cleverly made the second for Naas Olivier, was impressive in a willing but outclassed team.

The Sharks’ Pietersen and the sublime Ryan Kankowksi picked up where they left off at Ellis Park, cutting the defence to pieces, and it was significant that they were the first to be taken off and packed away in cotton wool minutes into the second half.

Plumtree also praised the efforts of captain John Smit, who played 80 minutes — first at hooker and then prop — and Daniel for his “outstanding form at the moment”.

The Sharks players should also have learnt from a contest where they blew hot and cold. When they play direct, structured rugby — as they did in the first half — they have the snap and organisation of champions; when they allow their rugby to become loose and they play as individuals, they are error-ridden and vulnerable. Plumtree will be making this point all week.

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