Rookie Sharks to the rescue

2011-07-18 00:00

IT was a most appropriate birthday present, a gift-wrapped Currie Cup bonus point win over the mighty Blue Bulls to open the Sharks’ defence of their title in their own back yard.

Coach John Plumtree said after the match that his most enjoyable day “is just about to get a whole lot better”, as he contemplated an evening celebrating his 46th birthday and a telling 35-16 win over one of the most respected teams in word rugby.

The Bulls, in terms of territory and possession, more than matched the Sharks who were forced to make far more tackles than their Pretoria opponents. But significantly the Sharks’ pace, vigour and creativity on attack, allied with a resilient defence, resulted in them taking the try tally 4-1.

“I’m so proud of the boys,” said Plumtree. “I warned them that it needed a really big effort to overcome their lack of preparation and they produced it.”

The Sharks coach was as pleased by the defence, which denied the Bulls for long periods in the second half, as he was about the attack, which fashioned four tries.

“That defence in the second half epitomised their spirit. They were playing for each other and that was really impressive,” he said.

The Sharks were under pressure for long periods and this usually followed some “silly error by one of the senior players which was disappointing”, and at one stage four Sharks players were having on-field medical treatment at the same time.

Certainly veterans Stefan Terblanche and centres Meyer Bosman and Marius Joubert have had better days and it was fortunate for the Sharks that the rookies, scrumhalf Ross Cronje, combative flank Marcell Coetzee, who has just turned 20, and wing Mark Richards, who somehow prevented a crucial try with a brave tackle on Gerhard van den Heever, came to the party.

The scrummaging of the young Sharks pack — young Dale Chadwick was a late tighthead replacement for the experienced Eugene van Staden — won penalties, metres in territory and pressured the Bulls’ halfbacks.

Several of the more experienced men also stood up strongly. Brave, hard-working number eight Keegan Daniel, who certainly should be in Australia with the Boks, productive lock Ross Skeate, Louis Ludik and, of course, flyhalf Frederic Michalak played prominent roles in the win.

Michalak, with 20 points, had a field day. He scored a try, fashioned another for lurking wing Ludik with a daring, pinpoint cross-kick when the Bulls players and the 23 000 crowd were waiting for the penalty at goal from straight in front, and goaled a series of kicks from all angles and distances.

The Blue Bulls’ new coach, Pine Pienaar, said the Sharks richly deserved their win and he had no excuses.

“We did play well at times in the second half when our ball retention improved, but the Sharks’ defence was strong.

“Both teams were in a similar position with so many changes and the youngsters coming in.

“We knew that the team that put up its hands would win. The Sharks did and we did not.”

Plumtree said the challenge for the young players is to maintain the effort and intensity over the next 13 weeks of league action.

“We made some silly errors and did not clear our lines on occasions. There is obviously hard work ahead and the Pumas will be a huge test in Nelspruit on Friday.

“This is just a start but at least it was a most positive one and I’m proud.”

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