Sharks ready for big battle

2008-02-20 00:00

JOHN Plumtree says the Sharks are bracing themselves for a fierce forward battle in the Super 14 game against the Stormers on Saturday.

The Sharks assistant coach said he was satisfied with the showing of his forwards in last weekend’s game against the Western Force.

“But the Stormers are bigger than the Force up front and the challenge will be even more intense.

“After just one game I don’t think we have seen yet what the Stormers can do.”

Sharks flank AJ Venter, who is nursing a gashed calf, faces a late fitness test, while Steven Sykes and Keegan Daniel are added to the 22 who did duty against the Force.

Plumtree said that Frenchman Frederic Michalak will be back.

“We definitely want to start him at flyhalf. He has looked good at training and he’s keen to get out there and show his range of skills. Hopefully the forwards can supply him with quality ball.”

Plumtree and head coach Dick Muir travelled to Cape Town to watch the Stormers going down 9-16 to the Bulls.

“We can’t take much out of their game. It was a real derby game with big South Africans smashing each other. I hope we will see some good running rugby this weekend.”

Plumtree said that the Stormers are capable of playing a far more expansive game than they did against the Bulls.

“They certainly have the players to do that, while I also think they have added far more meat to their driving game.

“They have some very direct ball carriers amongst the forwards and it is only a matter of time before Rassie Erasmus moulds them into a really good unit.”

Plumtree expects the Stormers to come out firing in Durban.

“They will be disappointed about their game against the Bulls. Maybe they were nervous on the day, under pressure in front of a huge crowd and under a new coach.”

The Sharks coaches were delighted by the performance of their forwards against the Force.

“With the plan we put in place for the game, to dominate upfront and at the set pieces, we competed well. And that was encouraging.”

Plumtree conceded that the Sharks had kicked away too much possession, but said that the players we re still feeling their way.

“We were still uncertain of how the new rules would affect the game and fell back on our kicking game.

“But we will pick up a lot more criticism losing while playing well than winning playing ugly. And it is still early in the competition.”

The Sharks assistant coach refused to join the chorus of criticism that has followed the introduction of the new rugby laws.

The New Zealander said yesterday he was “encouraged” by what he saw in the opening round of matches.

A number of Springboks, including scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, have said the new game is “like Sevens and without structure”.

Plumtree disagrees.

“You should not forget that you have a choice between a free kick and a scrum, so teams do have an option and decisions to make based on what you think is best for your team.”

Plumtree pointed out that fewer penalties at the breakdowns result in less kicking to the corners and fewer, time-consuming driving mauls.

“Players will have to become better at the phases; they will have to evolve. The number on your back will mean nothing. Everyone needs to be able to clean out and pass, and that’s healthy for the game.”

He dismissed the argument that big men will have no part to play, but said that conditioning is important.

“Accuracy at the breakdown becomes crucial. If the players don’t understand their role in that area, there will be turnovers and free kicks.

“As coaches, these changes are great because we also get challenged with the evolution of the game.”

The Sharks team will be announced later in the week.

The game kicks off at 5 pm on Saturday.

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