Plumtree: Sharks showed big character to turn lemon of a season around

2010-05-12 00:00

THE character shown by the Sharks players under the most adverse circumstances has been the highlight of the Super 14 campaign, head coach John Plumtree said yesterday.

The Sharks lost their first five games this season and their detractors had a field day. But the Sharks’ 20-14 win over the fancied Stormers at the weekend was their sixth victory in the last seven outings.

“What I’m proud of is that everyone just wrote us off. There was all that talk of the squad disintegrating and that we would end the Super 14 season as the wooden spoonists.

“None of that proved true. The response of the players and the character they showed in turning the season around has been the highlight of the season,” Plumtree said.

“We’ve grown as a team and our framework in defence, and even an improvement in our attack, has been really encouraging.”

He said the Sharks were unfortunate that a number of key players went down with injury.

“And if you lose three or four games in this competition, you will struggle. We were beaten five in a row, but we kept on fighting and, at the end, we can say we held our heads up high. If we can beat the Force on Friday, we would have won seven of our last eight games, and that would have been an improvement on last year.”

The Sharks produced a performance of high intensity to beat the Stormers at the weekend, and Plumtree said the challenge is now to repeat that effort in the final game against the Western Force at King’s Park on Friday night.

“Our mind-set is obviously crucial. There will still be a fair amount of motivation and the players will want to end off well for Johann Muller and Deon Carstens.” The two Springbok tight forwards, currently sidelined by injury, are leaving the Sharks after years of service.

“They are still part of our squad and campaign, and I think the players will want to honour them.”

Plumtree said the outing against the Stormers had been like a final for the Sharks.

“Ironically, we’re in better shape physically now than after we played the Bulls. The defence was brutal against the Stormers and that was impressive, but now we have to follow that up.

“We’ve had two big South African derbies and it is not difficult to get up for those. Against the Force there are other reasons for wanting to do well and each individual has to make sure he is ready.”

The Sharks coach said that the Force, though down in 12th place on the log, will be dangerous.

“This is their Test match on tour. They will respond after losing to the Cheetahs [in Bloemfontein on Saturday] — and they have beaten some big teams, including the Stormers outfit, this season.

“When they are under pressure, that Aussie fighting spirit comes out. Their problem, perhaps, is that after they have won they struggle to get back up again.”

The Sharks are expecting another physical battle, he said, especially at the breakdown where the Force have an international loose forward trio.

“If they get their heads up, and play well, it’s going to be a real battle. We know that we have to arrive for the occasion and fronting up, as we did against the Stormers, is key,” he said.

The match kicks off at 7.10 pm and South African referee Pro Legoete, who handled the second half of the Sharks-Cheetahs game after Jonathan Kaplan fell ill, will take charge.

Another referee from the reserve panel, Australian Paul Marks (remember the name?), is also back in favour and will blow the Blues-Chiefs match, while Kaplan is the referee at Newlands for the Stormers’ big game against the Bulls’ reserves.

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