Next win might soften fans

2011-05-14 00:00

THE Sharks have won their last two Super Rugby games at King’s Park in Durban by the most comfortable of margins, beating the Hurricanes 40-24 and the Brumbies 34-16, running in nine tries and conceding three.

Yet the response of the many observers and supporters has been curiously muted. Clearly far more is expected of John Plumtree and his players.

Ian McIntosh, the former Springbok and Natal coach, is one who has been left bemused by the largely negative reaction to the two wins. McIntosh, now a Springbok selector, has always delighted in using cricketing analogies in describing how rugby matches should be won.

“Just as you have to build an innings in a cricket match [McIntosh, of course, is from a pre-Twenty20 era], so you have to do the groundwork in setting up rugby games.

“I thought that against both the Hurricanes and the Brumbies the Sharks’ openers did all the hard work and then the fours and sixes came in the second half.”

The Sharks trailed 18-24 against the Hurricanes after nearly an hour yet won by 16 points, while they were down 16-6 at the break in the Brumbies’ game and then scored 28 unanswered points in the second half.

“I never thought the Sharks were in danger of losing either game and thought it was just a matter of time before their early work paid off.”

Sharks coach John Plumtree, without drawing on comparisons to any flannelled fools, expressed similar sentiments at the weekend.

It was widely believed that he tore strips off his players at the break in the Brumbies game after a string of scoring first-half chances had been frittered away.

But, no, he spoke quietly to the players and urged them to keep playing the way they were and the points would follow.

“The issue for us wasn’t that we were playing that bad rugby, we were just turning ball over. We were building pressure but not getting any reward for it.

“When we went to the corner instead of going for poles, it was a sign that the players felt that they had good momentum. But we still didn’t get what we wanted, so it was just one of those games where frustration was probably our biggest enemy and we just had to make sure we kept cool and the reward would come.”

And so it proved with four second-half tries taking the Sharks to an emphatic bonus point win.

Prop Jannie du Plessis, who played his 50th Super Rugby game for the Sharks against the Brumbies, also rated the victory higher than most critics.

“If you take into account the disappointment in the camp after our game against the Stormers, it was great to beat the Brumbies,” he told the Sharks website.

“It wasn’t easy by any means and they defended brilliantly. So to come away with a win, especially one with a bonus point, was the cherry on the cake.”

Du Plessis confirmed that Plumtree had been in a conciliatory mood at half-time, calling for patience in spite of the 10-point deficit.

“Anyone who watches rugby regularly could see that we were really trying hard,” said Du Plessis. “We played in bursts in the first half, but then couldn’t finish. So at half-time the coach said to us, ‘Boys, I can see that you’re trying, just touch up on this and things will come right’.”

Du Plessis is convinced that the Sharks are still in strong contention for the play-offs.

“We have a few big games coming up, we play the Bulls twice and we have a few away games. We also host the Waratahs who are only three points behind us so there are a few crucial matches ahead of us. We have to play well if we want to win and, ultimately, that’s our goal.”

Plumtree said that one of the greatest dangers in the competition was taking any side lightly.

“Look at the quality of the teams that are out of the competition. The Brumbies were really tough and the Cheetahs aren’t going to roll over.

“The players have to be ready and focused every weekend. Look at the way the Chiefs turned over the Highlanders. Players can forget what it takes and you can slip-up. If everyone is not up for it on the day, they can get hurt by any team.

“That’s why this competition is such a great one. Mentally it’s tough and how you manage the players is important,” the Sharks coach said.

Du Plessis agreed there would be no easy ride.

“We still have to play the Cheetahs and Lions who may not be contenders ,but they are very tough sides to beat at home. Injuries are also starting to mount. It takes guts and character like that to be successful in this competition.”

Plumtree said he was looking forward to this weekend, his case of beer and the Wild Coast.

“There are some tired bodies there and you’d take a week off any time. The injuries in the competition are adding up and I believe that the side with the best squad system will go through and be the strongest in the play-offs.

“But there are still five rounds before the play-offs. That’s huge when you think about it.”

Plumtree said that in the build-up to the Brumbies game the Sharks players had still been depressed about their defeat in Cape Town.

“They needed to exorcise those demons with a victory and they did.”

It seems, however, that it has taken the supporters even longer to recover from that dark day at Newlands and a defeat which has certainly left them in unforgiving mood.

Perhaps a win over the champion Bulls in Durban next Saturday will do the trick.

The issue for us wasn’t that we were playing that bad rugby, we were just turning ball over.

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