Hard-working Smit helps Sharks come to life after slow start

2011-04-25 00:00

SOUTH African rugby breathed a sigh of relief on Saturday evening when Springbok captain John Smit came to life in helping the Sharks beat the Hurricanes 40-24 in their Super Rugby game at King’s Park.

The subdued Smit, struggling to find his form this season, has launched a thousand public debates as South Africans look ahead to the Rugby World Cup. But back at hooker for the first time in the Super Rugby competition, he made a lively contribution on Saturday, surging over for the Sharks’ first try, making a number of tackles, hitting the rucks and showing deft touches when carrying the ball.

Coach John Plumtree was delighted with Smit’s showing and his positive response to the on-going speculation about his future.

“John played very well and I’m so pleased for him. He carried the ball up strongly and he was busy throughout the game,” said Plumtree.

But the coach was less complimentary about some of Smit’s team-mates as the Sharks struggled in the first half, improved in the second and then finished with a flourish to transform a close, fluctuating game into a 16-point victory.

“We were sleepy at the start and then played some good rugby in the second half. But the rugby from some of the guys was patchy and I will be speaking to them.”

Plumtree, in threatening mood, said the players had to be at their best every weekend “or there will be changes”.

“We will certainly have to play better than this if we want to beat the Stormers on Saturday [at Newands] and if we want to be title contenders.”

The Sharks coach was pleased with the impact that his bench made in the last quarter.

Smit’s team were trailing 23-24 with 20 minutes remaining when wing Lwazi Mvovo intercepted and ran 50 metres to score his second try to give the Sharks the lead for the first time in the match. The simultaneous introduction of flank Keegan Daniel, prop Jannie du Plessis and centre Adi Jacobs lifted the Sharks at a critical stage and at a time when the Hurricanes storm had blown out.

“That’s the advantage of using the bench,” said Plumtree. “Having a competitive bench gave us some sting in the closing quarter and that is what you need from the replacements.”

Hurricanes new head coach, former All Black hooker Mark Hammett, said the yellow-carding of centre Ma’a Nonu with 10 minutes remaining (for a professional foul at the breakdown) was “critical”.

“We were still in the game [at 30-24] with 10 minutes left so it made a big difference. It’s hard enough playing the Sharks with 15 men and to be a man down makes it very difficult.”

Both he and Plumtree thought that the yellow card shown to lock James Broadhurst for trampling just four minutes into the game was harsh.

“It looked pretty soft,” Plumtree said of the call, but Hammett did concede that the laws prohibit a player using his boot to clear players from the ball.

“New Zealanders and South Africans may see it as part of the game, a way to speed up winning the ball, but the laws don’t.”

Hammett said his players had again paid the price for placing themselves under pressure with errors in defence.

However, he was encouraged by the Hurricanes’ work in the set piece.

“Our scrum was strong, we did not lose a lineout and we took some of the Sharks’ ball.”

Plumtree said the untidy Sharks’ lineout remained a concern “and the Stormers will no doubt look to take advantage of that at Newlands”.

See page 14 for Super Rugby round-up.

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