Plumtree: one down, four to go for Sharks

2012-05-07 00:00

THE Sharks, eking out victory any which way they could, resorted to a one–dimensional kicking game in downing the Highlanders 28-16 in their Super Rugby game at a wet King’s Park on Saturday night.

The grimly determined Sharks took a leaf out of the Bulls’ book, largely ignoring their backs and kicking the leather off the ball. They then effectively closed down the Highlanders for long periods, forcing them to concede seven penalties in range, which Sharks flyhalf Pat Lambie, in awkward kicking conditions, goaled with aplomb. He then completed his evening with the Sharks’ only try to score all 28 of their points.

It was just as well Lambie had an excellent evening with the boot because only victory could justify the conservative approach.

Significantly, and in spite of holding an important edge in the scrums and lineouts, the Sharks had less than 40% of possession as they kept kicking the ball back to the Highlanders. The Sharks also had to make three times as many tackles, but in the end the pressure they exerted brought field position, penalties and victory.

“It may have been ugly,” a relieved coach John Plumtree said later, “but we needed the win to stay in the chase. And at least we can prepare for our next game with a smile.”

But he was keeping his feet on the ground.

“This is just one out of five wins we need,” he said and the Sharks now face games against the Western Force, Cheetahs, Stormers and Lions over the next month and before the break for the international month of June.

“The weeks ahead will be a real test of the maturity in this side,” he said. “The big question is whether we can now build on this and string a series of wins together.”

Plumtree said the fierce contest at the breakdown and the slow ball spoilt the flow of the contest. This had resulted in Lambie, standing deep in the pocket, and scrumhalf Charl McLeod kicking away much of the Sharks’ hard-earned possession.

Plumtree said he was particularly pleased with the scrummaging. Certainly a fitter Jannie du Plessis is looking like a Springbok tighthead again, Beast Mtawairia made an immediate impact in the front-row and hooker Bismarck du Plessis was typically busy and connfrontational.

Plumtree was also satisfied with the bright start made by Paul Jordaan in his first start, though it was largely an evening for kick-and-chase and tackling for the young centre.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said the contest at the breakdown had been particularly physical, but admitted the Sharks had “hurt us” in the scrums.

“We did battle with injuries, three of them serious ones, and we finished with only 14 men. But credit to the Sharks. They took their chances and they defended well. They are a quality side and once they were in front by 12 points it was always going to be a very difficult game to chase down.”

The Sharks face the Western Force at King’s Park on Saturday and Plumtree said that, in terms of injury, they were in good shape.

The challenge now, he added, was to play with some consistency.

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