New laws will make Blues hard to stop — Plumtree

2010-04-22 00:00

CHUNKY centre Riaan Swanepoel is the only Sharks player facing fitness problems ahead of Saturday’s Super 14 meeting with the Auckland Blues at King’s Park.

Swanepoel, who had one of his better games this season against the ­Lions at Ellis Park last weekend, left the field late in the game with an ankle injury. Head coach John Plumtree said the injury will be assessed before the team is announced today.

Former Free Stater Andries Strauss, another honest workhorse in the midfield, is standing by to replace him.

A number of other players, including abrasive loose forwards Willem Albert and Jean Deysel, took a heavy battering at Ellis Park, but Plumtree said they are being carefully managed and he expects them to train today.

The Sharks coach said he remains concerned about the Sharks’ one-on-one defence.

“We will have to improve against the Blues because they will ask even more of us defensively than the Lions. They have some excellent attackers and steppers, and if we don’t make our tackles, we will be in big trouble.”

Most Super 14 teams, Plumtree added, have big ball carriers.

“If don’t drop them, they get momentum and they’re hard to stop with the change in the breakdown law.

“The new-look laws are favouring teams like the Blues and the Reds, and it is going to make for some great attacking rugby in the Tri-Nations if the referees continue the trends seen in the Super 14.”

Plumtree said teams with attacking back lines, like the Reds, Hurricanes and Blues, are exceptionally difficult to stop if they get quick ball over the gain line. “In the past you could slow down or steal the ball at the breakdown and your defence had more time to settle; you had a better chance to stop the flow of momentum.

“Now we are talking about choosing where to fight the battle, which rucks to go to and contest and which to leave and spread your defenders instead.

“There are more decisions to be made at the breakdown in terms of defence.”

The new law interpretations are giving coaches new challenges, said Plumtree. “Bigger guys are being exposed in the defensive lines and we have been forced to look at selection, at who you can and can’t pick and which combinations are best suited defensively,” he said.

But Plumtree believes the change of emphasis in the laws has been positive for everyone, particularly the spectators. “From a coaching perspective, it is a harder job defensively, but the spectators are being treated to attacking rugby and more tries.”

Saturday’s big game kicks off at 5.05 pm.

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