Sharks to face huge pressure from Chiefs

2009-02-24 00:00

With the Sharks safely away from the stifling heat and humidity of Durban, preparations have begun in earnest for their match against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday. The Sharks are based in Auckland on the first leg of their four-week trip.

Not only have the New Zealand sides lost many players to lucrative overseas contracts, but they have taken a huge injury toll. Nor have the Chiefs escaped the bogey that has threatened to sideline dangermen Sione Lauaki and Mils Muliaina this weekend.

For a team playing their first home game of the tournament and yet to win, there is massive pressure as they come up against the Sharks.

The Durban-based side arrived close to midnight on Monday (NZ time) with a few bumps and bruises from Saturday’s energy-sapping clash against the Lions at King’s Park, but without any injury concerns.

The Sharks go into this match with a 100% success rate, but lie in fourth position on the log, having failed to capture any log points in the opening two weeks.

“We are a little bit disappointed we didn’t get the bonus point on the weekend,” said coach John Plumtree. “We broke the line about 12 times and cashed in about four, either by poor decisions or a poor option from second phase. We’ll look to be more accurate than that against the Chiefs.”

He admitted that despite missing out on the bonus points, he was satisfied with two victories, especially against the Lions and in conditions he called “crazy”.

“That heat on the weekend was amazing,” he said. “The humidity factor is incredible, draining for the players. I don’t think too many sides would have beaten us on Saturday night because they wouldn’t have been used to it.

“In fairness to the Lions, they are big and physical and a lot of players commented on just how tough it was out there, just how draining … Those were not rugby conditions.”

Following a tough five-week tour last year, the Sharks bounced back from three defeats to score fairly emphatic home victories over the Cheetahs and Chiefs, and while they boast a fairly good record over the Chiefs in New Zealand as well, the team is taking a lesson from the previous encounter here.

“The boys were talking on the plane about how poor we were last time we played them over here,” Plumtree said. “We had done really well against the Blues in Albany the previous week and then we let ourselves down big time. We were down 25 points at half-time. That’s all the players can remember, so that’s good. We have a lot of respect for them.”

In that match the Sharks lost 35-27, but they are committed to continuing where they left off last week.

Having worked so hard to get where they are, they are only too aware that stumbling at this point could be a serious blow to their tour goals.

Saturday’ game kicks off at 8.35 am (SA time).

• Michael Marnewick is covering the Sharks tour for The Witness.

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