Downhearted Sharks leave on ‘long road into uncharted territory’

2010-02-22 00:00

THE Sharks, down in confidence and short of points, will now have to contend with a fired-up Crusaders outfit in their next Super 14 outing in Christchurch on Friday.

The Sharks left Durban on their travels on Saturday evening and head coach John Plumtree said he is expecting a fiery backlash from the Crusaders who went down in a record defeat to the Reds in Brisbane in their weekend game.

Plumtree said the tour could prove a blessing for the Sharks, allowing the players to work on their obvious problems away from the doom and gloom of Durban after Friday night’s defeat to the Cheetahs.

And they escaped Durban just in time as a Sunday newspaper carried a front page story suggesting that captain John Smit is past his prime.

“It is a long road now,” Plumtree said before the Sharks left, “the worst start we have made since I’ve been here. This is unchartered territory, but John Smit and I will work really hard to keep the group positive.

“The Chiefs made the final last year after three defeats and that s our challenge now.

“The danger is if the players get really negative and we can’t allow that. Plenty of people will think we can’t make the play-offs, but I need to convince the players they can come back.”

Plumtree has included his two new signings — Bulls lock Wilhelm Steenkamp, who made his Sharks debut briefly in the final quarter on Friday night, and England flyhalf Andy Goode — in the tour squad.

He said that Goode’s inclusion at flyhalf would allow him to play Ruan Pienaar at scrumhalf “and that will give us a different dimension”.

“We haven’t been able to build our combinations because of injuries and retirements so we are not where we would like to be. I hope that the tour gives us that continuity in selection.”

The Sharks head coach conceded that the Crusaders would be even more difficult to beat after their heavy loss to the Reds.

“They’ll be chomping and we can expect a torrid time. But we’re always up for them and our clashes are always exciting.”

The late signings have resulted in changes to the Sharks tour squad of 25 with three original inclusions dropping out.

Lock Alistair Hargreaves, who was struck down by glandular fever in the off-season, is staying behind to work on his conditioning with Steenkamp taking his place.

Goode, who will join the Sharks in Christchurch, replaces flyhalf Monty Dumond while Riaan Swanepoel takes over from inside centre Andries Strauss.

Young fullback Patrick Lambie and injured lock Johann Muller have also been included.

The Sharks take on the Crusaders, Waratahs, Brumbies, Highlanders and Hurricanes on successive weekends before returning home.

Sharks tour squad

Backs (11): Stefan Terblanche, Patrick Lambie, JP Pietersen, Odwa Ndungane, Lwazi Mvovo, Waylon Murray, Adi Jacobs, Riaan Swanepoel, Andy Goode, Ruan Pienaar, Rory Kockott.

Forwards (14): Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel, Keegan Daniel, Jacques Botes, Johann Muller, Steve Sykes, Wilhelm Steenkamp, John Smit (captain), Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Craig Burden, Beast Mtawarira and Deon Carstens.

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