Chiefs up to challenge

2008-05-13 00:00

THE Chiefs have been severely disrupted by injury, but Sharks coach John Plumtree believes they will still mount a formidable challenge in the Super 14 clash at King’s Park on Saturday night.

The Chiefs, beaten by the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday night in one of the season’s biggest upsets, have seven players on the injury list, while an eighth, prop Ben May, has been banned for stomping.

Chiefs coach Ian Foster has described this week as “a nightmare” for his team. Three players — Simms Davison (injured back) and Simon Lemalu (knee) and centre Richard Kahui — have already gone home. Another four, Sione Lauaki, Sitiveni Sivivatu, hooker Tom Willis and Steve Donald, are doubtful starters.

Four players, Nathan White, hooker John Pareanga, Murray Williams and scrumhalf Brendon Leonard, have flown to South Africa.

But Plumtree, who takes over from Dick Muir as Sharks head coach at the end of the month, is taking nothing for granted.

“We are planning for the Chiefs game as if they are at full strength. They are flying out replacements and there are some pretty good players and I’m sure they’ll step up.”

Plumtree said that the Chiefs are still in the chase for a semi-final berth if they pick up five points and other results go their way.

“Even if they are out of contention on Saturday, they will want to win and finish up the log. It is important for their franchise as they don’t have a great history in the competition.”

Plumtree conceded that some of their injured players are top performers.

“The stats of Sione Lauaki [the 120-kg All Black loose forward] are scary and he has done a lot of damage to the Sharks in the past. It would be a boost for us if he is sitting on the sidelines.”

Plumtree said that Sitiveni Sivivatu, capped 21 times for the All Blacks on the wing, would also be missed by the Chiefs if he fails his fitness test.

“But there are still plenty of players with line-breaking ability in their squad and it will be a big examination for the Sharks.”

Turning to the Sharks, Plumtree said the lineout work against the Cheetahs has been a major concern.

“But for the coaches the encouraging feature of the win was that we showed more patience, something we’ve been striving for since the Waratahs’ defeat.”

The New Zealander said there are signs of the Sharks building on their phase play and placing opponents’ defences under stress.

“We have some great players, but we have been too impatient and haven’t built enough pressure, and this has made us easy to defend against.

“In the last three games we have made fewer tackles than previously and have won more possession.You are certainly not going to win a championship just defending.”

The Sharks coach is convinced that if the Sharks can maintain their form and advance to the semi-finals (with a win over the Chiefs and at least one other result working in their favour) they would be a title threat.

“If we can get that go-forward ball and the backs can hang on to possession, we can beat anyone in the competition. We have the set piece to dominate any side. Our scrum is probably the best in the competition and our lineout is solid although we had a bit of a meltdown on the weekend.”

The Sharks, he added, also had the advantage of knowing on Saturday night just what they would have to do to reach the semi-finals.

He is also hoping for the backing of a large crowd and that Frans Steyn and Johann Muller come through late fitness tests.

The match kicks off at 7.10 pm on Saturday.

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