Lions match could make or break Sharks

2011-04-05 00:00

SUDDENLY, the Sharks are under the cosh and coach John Plumtree reckons his players have reached the make-or-break stage of the Super Rugby season.

The competition has yet to reach the halfway stage but the Sharks, after the most positive of starts and four successive victories, are now desperate to beat the Lions in the eighth round on Saturday.

Their defeat by the Stormers on Saturday was their third in a row following their losses to the Chiefs and the Crusaders over the previous fortnight and their confidence, particularly on attack, has suffered.

They do have an excellent chance to return to their winning ways against the Lions.

John Mitchell’s team, with one win in seven games, are propping up the foot of the log while the Sharks, after their heavy travel obligations of the past month, will have this week to catch their breath in Durban.

The Sharks have their bye next weekend and then should have playmaker Pat Lambie back for the April 23 outing against the Hurricanes in Durban.

But the Sharks cannot afford another home loss against another South African team and Plumtree will be reading the riot act this week.

“I have told the players that this week is a Test match,” he said. “I want them to think of it as that and approach it like that.

“It is a game we just have to win, I don’t care how we do it. If we don’t win, then I am afraid our season could be just about over in terms of trying to win this competition, and I have told the players that.”

Mitchell and Plumtree are close friends and this adds a competitive edge to these contests with both knowing how the other will approach the game.

Indeed, Plumtree’s run of successes against Mitchell was ended in the Currie Cup game at Ellis Park last year and the Lions also beat the Sharks in the pre-season friendly in Cape Town in February.

Plumtree says that the Sharks were just a couple of percent off in every area against the Stormers but does not think a major overhaul is necessary.

The Sharks were poor in the first half but had to chase the game in the second when the rain compounded their handling problems.

“Being 10 points behind when it starts to rain is not a position a team wants to be in.

“It made it hard for us. But full marks to the Stormers, they played well, and they are a much stronger side in comparison to the one that we beat in the Currie Cup final when Peter Grant and Andries Bekker are back in the mix,” he said.

But the Sharks’ poor work in the lineout was a surprise and Plumtree will be concentrating on the set pieces this week.

And so will Mitchell and the Lions. Mitchell has singled out his team’s poor performance at the set pieces as the biggest disappointment in their 30-25 weekend loss to the Reds at Ellis Park.

“Our failure there became extremely costly as your backs can’t live off ball received behind the advantage line.”

“And there were some poor individual choices in kick-and-receive as well.

“I thought in the first half we showed composure and we got ourselves into the right areas of the field, managed to get some conversion out of the pressure we put on them and we defended well.”

Mitchell said that the Lions had learnt from their defeat.

“It hurts in the short-term but there is a long-term goal here and there’s a lot of work to do in this union before we can get to the top.”

“While everyone is after a result, we have to be deserving of it and right at the moment we are not.

Meanwhile, the Johannesburg squad had to finish the match without two of their first choice outside backs.

Fullback Michael Killian and wing Deon van Rensburg were injured against the Reds and face fitness tests this week while attacking fullback and New Zealander James Kamana will be back after serving out a two week suspension for a dangerous tackle on Cheetahs centre Robert Ebersohn.

Saturday’s game against the Sharks kicks off at 7.10 pm.

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