Sharks wary of the Chiefs, who have much to play for

2009-02-23 00:00

JOHN Plumtree and his Sharks squad, who arrived in Auckland last night after their long trek from Durban, are wary of catching the Chiefs on the rebound in Saturday’s Super 14 game in Hamilton.

The Sharks left Durban on Sunday afternoon and trekked to New Zealand via Sydney to Auckland, where they will stay for a few days before moving on to Hamilton.

The Chiefs have lost their first two games this season, but the Sharks coaching staff believe the Hamilton game could be the toughest of their four-match tour.

The Chiefs have had the toughest start to their Super 14 season, travelling away to meet the Super 14 finalists of last year, the Waratahs and the champion Crusaders.

They lost both games by the narrowest of margins, going down 13-19 to the Crusaders and then, at the weekend, losing 11-7 to the Waratahs in Sydney.

Plumtree said the Chiefs game would be exceptionally tough.

“It is a massive game for the Chiefs, just huge. They are coming home for the first time, but if they don’t win in Hamilton, after their two losses, they will pretty much be playing catch-up for the rest of the season. They will really be up for it.

“We are also in the position of having to get over a long trip and that will interfere with our preparations.”

Plumtree said the Chiefs backline, crowded with All Blacks, is a major threat.

“They have so many talented runners and, if their forward pack gets parity, or gets on top of us, it will be a long day.”

Chris Boyd, the Sharks assistant coach, agreed.

“We are not thinking further than the Chiefs. After failing twice narrowly, they will be very tough back home. The New Zealand teams, the Chiefs, the Blues and the Crusaders, have lost out to the northern hemisphere and they are down on players from previous campaigns but they will still be difficult to beat.”

Plumtree said that the Sharks had the squad to do well on tour.

“If we get a lot right on the day, we can hurt anyone. There is nothing we should be scared of but we still have to perform well to pick up points overseas.

“We have to be really accurate in the basics, the set piece and the defence, and not just get excited on attack.”

Backline coach Grant Bashford said the Sharks were in good shape for the tour.

“We were a game short going into the Stormers because most of our pre-season training had been spent on conditioning. We thought we would pick up the rugby side on the way, particularly as we have continuity in our squad from the Currie Cup.

“There were a lot of errors in the Lions game, we think because of the intense heat, but in the Stormers game there were glimpses of good rugby although we were underdone.

“The tour will be good for us and Durban will be a different place (cooler) by the time we get back in a month and you’ll see a different brand of rugby,” said Bashford.

The Sharks generally tour well with a good mix of touring and playing rugby.

“The good thing about this year is that we are travelling as far as we are going to go (Hamilton) and then we work our way back (through Auckland, Brisbane to Perth) and then it is only eight hours back home. So this tour is as good as it’s going to get. Going early in the season also means that we should miss the worst of the New Zealand weather.”

Plumtree said that the Sharks would not be seen in the Tommy tourist role.

“I have spoken to the boys about making sure that the emphasis is on points and not just touring.

We have to make sure we get the balance. At times (on previous tours) the mix has probably not been right. So, after they get over their jet lag, we will be putting a lot of pressure on the boys in getting them ready for the Chiefs’ game.”

The kick-off to the Sharks’ match against the Chiefs is at 8.35 am (SA time) on Saturday.

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