My kingdom for a flyhalf

2010-01-16 00:00

HEAD coach John Plumtree is looking on the bright side of life as he contemplates the Sharks’ looming Super 14 season.

The Sharks plan to overcome a dreadful Super 14 draw this year by playing a daring brand of rugby and attacking opponents from all areas of the pitch.

“The emphasis will be on being positive, developing our attacking game and playing exciting, entertaining rugby.”

Plumtree knows that the Sharks will have to produce something special in the face of the most demanding draw.

The Sharks have seven matches away from home to the six at King’s Park, they criss-cross the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia three times and, as Plumtree points out, they play the traditional toughest teams in the competition on the road.

The champion Bulls along with the Crusaders, easily the most consistent side in the Super 14, and the Waratahs, Brumbies and Hurricanes will all host the Sharks this year.

“Yes, it will be tough and that is why we must pick up a clutch of bonus points to help us reach the play-offs. In recent years we have often failed to bag those extra points and that has cost us, but we are determined to put that right this year.”

The cruel irony, however, is that Plumtree’s planned expansive approach has just suffered a devastating setback with the loss of the world-class flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez to a back injury.

“The role of the flyhalf is decisive,” said Plumtree. “If you look at all the sides that have done well in the Super 14, the Crusaders, the Brumbies and the Bulls, they have all had influential flyhalves.

“We have battled here at the Sharks to build a team around a settled flyhalf since Butch James left. Now we have to quickly fill the gap and we are looking for a long-term solution, a player who can play at flyhalf for the Sharks for the next five years.”

While the Sharks scouts are scouring the rugby world for a flyhalf, Plumtree is assessing the talent in his own backyard. Ruan Pienaar, when over his knee operation, is the obvious first-choice and that selection would delight Bok coach Peter de Villiers, who wants the utility back to concentrate on the flyhalf role. However, Pienaar is happier at scrumhalf and that is where Plumtree would have played him had Hernandez not returned to Argentina. Plumtree is still hoping that Monty Dumond and the developing young Pat Lambie, who has played most of his rugby at fullback, could come to the rescue and play flyhalf at Super 14 level.

Plumtree is happy with the rest of the squad and particularly the beefy bunch of forwards he has assembled.

“We have 15 or 16 forwards quite capable of playing Super 14 rugby. We have depth, all-round strength and we have options. And a number of our younger players are in their third and fourth year of Super 14 rugby and we should now reap the benefits.

Plumtree said that Bok tighthead John Smit would be carefully nursed through the season.

“He will be used at three (tighthead), two (hooker) and off the bench depending on circumstances.”

The addition to the squad of two massive 120 kg Lions forwards, number eight Willem Alberts and lock Gerhard Mostert, will add depth and power to the pack and keep the regulars in the Sharks squad honest.

“This depth, competition and variety will make selection easier and lift the standards,” said Plumtree. “We will be able to both rotate the regulars when they need a break while also keeping pressure on the players to perform.”

The Sharks coach said this was not the case last year when a lack of competition for places and injuries meant the players largely chose themselves week in and out.

“And that is not healthy,” he added. “The players must know they have to keep performing.”

While Plumtree said the Sharks would be encouraged to play an all-out attacking game, their defence would be critical.

“Defence remains the backbone of any successful team and we certainly won’t ignore that. And the change in the breakdown law where the tackler has less right to play the ball should see better attack with more tries. But, of course, it all depends on how the refs blow the laws at the breakdown.”

The signing of Louis Ludik from the Lions has added to the Sharks’ attack out wide, he said.

“He can play fullback, wing or outside centre, and he is nippy. But we also need Adi Jacobs and Waylon Murray firing again in midfield.”

Plumtree is also hoping that the return of Hugh Reece-Edwards, the former Natal and Springbok fullback who coached the Sharks for a brief and unhappy period in 2000, will also help spark the backline.

“I’m delighted the Sharks board agreed to my request to bring Reece back as a backline coach. He is part of the Sharks’ family, a good friend and he has so much to offer. I’m hoping this will revive his coaching career after his spell in the wilderness.”

Plumtree said that Reece-Edwards had a feel for the game and would bring new ideas.

“He will have some catching up to do after his long break, but we have (New Zealander) Chris Boyd and Grant Bashford to help him with the backs.”

Plumtree appears to have the right personnel on and off the field to provide the Sharks supporters with an exciting season.

But he does need a catalyst, an astute and talented playmaker, in the pivot role. If he could somehow drag a top flyhalf from the hat before the end of the month, the Sharks would be ready, willing and capable of mounting another spirited Super 14 challenge.

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