Sharks warned this will be no canned hunt

2012-06-02 00:00

IT would appear, at first blush, to have all the makings of a canned lion hunt, but do not suggest that to coach John Plumtree ahead of the Sharks’ Super Rugby derby against the struggling Lions at Ellis Park this evening.

Plumtree has been banging on all week that the Sharks’ attitude will be key to them beating the Lions in their backyard.

Indeed, he started on his players the moment they arrived back in the change-room after beating the Stormers at King’s Park last Saturday night, urging them to focus on the next challenge.

Complacency, as any rugby coach will tell you, can dull the competitive edge of the most organised team and Plumtree knows what is at stake this evening.

The Sharks have to pick up a bonus point win tonight if they are to have a sniff at winning the South African conference.

They should achieve their objective against the bottom-feeding Lions and the odds are certainly stacked in their favour.

Not only are they the South African form team of the moment, but they have momentum after four wins on the bounce — John Mitchell’s team have lost 10 of their 11 games this season — and they have a 7-0 record against the Lions (with one draw) since 2006.

Their team is crowded with Springboks past and present and they have every incentive with a play-off place in their grasp while the future for the confused, disrupted, injury-hit Lions is gloomy and uncertain.

Plumtree, who set his players the challenge of winning five in a row after the home defeat to the Chiefs, is close to achieving his objective following victories over the Highlanders, Force, Cheetahs and Stormers.

“But all the hard work of the last five weeks will count for nothing if we do not win at Ellis Park,” he said.

“The players have worked hard as a group to get themselves into this position and they don’t want to let it go now.

“But it doesn’t matter if I stand up and rant and rave about the importance of the game. It needs to come from within the playing group and often it’s hard to get up after a big game like the one we had against the Stormers.”

Plumtree said log positions counted for nothing in derby games and particularly in the Super Rugby competition.

“Look what happened to the Crusaders when they were beaten by the Rebels. That game was a prime example of what can happen if the attitudes aren’t right.”

“If the accuracy isn’t right, if the mental attitude is not there, anyone can win. I cannot emphasise that enough,” he added and he has no need to remind his players what happened in the Currie Cup final late last year.

Lions coach John Mitchell, with a certain amount of envy, said that Plumtree, his old New Zealand mate, now had a strong team playing fluent rugby after their uncertain start to the season. “They are dangerous. I think Plum has done a bloody good job with them,” said Mitchell.

“The Sharks will be blunt, I guess it is up to us to deny them access into the game,” he said.

“So I guess it will come down to how long we are prepared to remain in an arm wrestle. If we do that, then we will present ourselves with an opportunity.”

“The Sharks are very aggressive and hungry because they’re within a sniff of playoffs so they are a dangerous animal.”

If the Sharks are as physically and mentally sharp as they were against the Stormers last Saturday, they will do the job today and pick up a bonus point win. But, as Plumtree knows, if they take their eye off the ball they could be punished and turn what should be a fairly smooth ride into a hard grind.

TEAMS

Sharks – 15 Pat Lambie, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Freddie Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Marius Joubert, 22 Louis Ludik.

Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Butch James, 11 Anthonie Volminck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Joshua Strauss (c), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 CJ van der Linde.

Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Ruan Combrinck.

Referee: Garratt Williamson (NZ). Kick-off: 5.05 pm

Today’s fixtures (home team first, SA times): Blues v Chiefs 9.35 am; Waratahs v Hurricanes 11.40 am; Lions v Sharks 5.05 pm; Bulls v Stormers 7.10 pm.

Byes: Cheetahs, Force, Reds.

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