Injury-stricken Sharks up for it

2010-05-05 00:00

SHARKS coach John Plumtree yesterday predicted that there would be an all-South African final to the Super 14 on May 29 for the second time in four years.

The New Zealand-born coach said that it was a massive boost for South African rugby to have two teams at the top of the log going into the penultimate round of league competition this weekend.

“The Stormers-Bulls clash is the one everyone is looking forward and, in terms of form, I’d be surprised if that’s not the final. The question is where the final will be played and home ground advantage will be huge.”

South Africa last had two sides in the final in 2007 when the Bulls pipped the Sharks with an injury-time try in Durban to take the title.

The Sharks, who have been hit by the loss of Springboks JP Pietersen, Bismarck du Plessis and Johann Muller over the past 10 days, face the Stormers at King’s Park on Saturday night.

“We’re getting patched up after the tough Bulls game,” Plumtree said. “There have been heaps of guys going off for X-rays and medical assessments, but the only guy who started against the Bulls and is definitely out for Saturday is Johann Muller. He smashed his arm again under the plate (inserted last year after a fracture) and he won’t play for eight weeks.”

Plumtree said that his two big loose forwards, Jean Deysel and Willem Alberts, both nursing injuries, would be rested during the week but would be fit for the Stormers.

Bok number eight Ryan Kankowski is also back and, at loose forward anyway, Plumtree has a number of options.

“We were initially pretty worried about John Smit [neck]. He had some referred pain in his hand, but he is feeling a lot better and should be ready for Saturday.”

Plumtree said Saturday’s game is almost an exact reversal of the position in 2007 when the Sharks were top of the log and looking for a home final when they went down to face the 10th-placed Stormers.

“They were determined not to do us any favours at Newlands, but we were too good for them on the day [the Sharks won 36-10].

“They know it will be a tough contest up here. We have taken a few knocks, particularly in the forwards, and it is disappointing to pick up so many injuries to key players and just when we were getting good momentum to our campaign.

“But we just have to go out there and give it a go.”

Plumtree said that there would still be strong motivation in the Sharks team although their campaign is over.

“The players should be able to get themselves up for the game in front of a big home crowd.

“There’s enough pride and character in the team and they won’t want to let themselves down. We will be playing a very good, complete side and we’ll have to play very well to beat them.

“But the Stormers have lost a couple of games this season and I’d like to say we’ll give them a go.”

The Sharks coach said that Louis Ludik, the former Lions fullback, is back in action after his long rehabilitation following knee surgery, but he will not rejoin the Super 14 squad.

“He played for the last quarter for the Sharks XV in the Vodacom Cup match on Saturday and he needs more rugby. He’s been out a long time and we’ll just let him get his confidence back before bringing him into the squad.”

Plumtree was this week angered by incorrect reports on the SuperSport and Keohane websites, which implied that after the Loftus defeat he had criticised flyhalf Andy Goode and Sharks commercial manager Rudolf Straeuli for signing the Englishman.

“Do you really think an experienced coach like me would criticise a player at a news conference?” Plumtree asked.

“I mentioned that we needed to be ambitious in our recruitment and straight away the conclusion was drawn (by the journalists) that I was criticising Rudolf Straeuli and Andy Goode,” Plumtree told News24.

“I never said that and totally deny it.”

Plumtree pointed out that as coach he had played a major role in recruiting players as the Sharks, at the last minute, tried desperately to replace flyhalves Juan Hernandez and Steve Meyer on the eve of the Super 14.

Saturday’s match kicks off at 7.10 pm and Australian Stuart Dickinson, who handled the Stormers-Crusaders game last Friday, will be the referee.


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