Sharks unchanged for Force ‘final’

2012-05-09 00:00

COACH John Plumtree is hoping that continuity in selection will bring consistency in performance as the Sharks prepare for four weeks of “cup final” rugby.

The Sharks face the Western Force, Cheetahs, Stormers and Lions over the next four weekends and have to keep winning to stay in touch with the Super Rugby pacesetters.

“We have four games coming up that are really crucial and we’re sort of into finals rugby already,” Plumtree said yesterday. “If I can have a group of players that perform really well and we run with that group, then that’s a real positive.”

Plumtree said that the injury cloud which had hung over the Sharks since January had lifted and he could even be in the rare position this week of naming an unchanged team for the Force game on Saturday evening.

“I’m hoping the injuries are now a thing of past and we can move forward with a fit squad.

“With continuity in player personnel, those combinations get a little better and build.”

It also rubbed off positively within the squad by creating more competition for places at training, he added.

He said he was satisfied with the improvement the changes had brought against the Highlanders.

“Beast [Mtawarira] coming back gave the pack that little bit of extra confidence and I thought Paul Jordaan played really well in the midfield and his partnership with Tim Whitehead can grow.”

He said that JP Pietersen had enjoyed his time in the midfield “but he is probably back in his preferred position on the wing and [fullback] Louis Ludik was solid”.

“That’s what you want to create, a situation where opportunities are taken but there is still pressure from the other players.”

Plumtree said that there would be more emphasis on the Sharks’ forward play in the weeks ahead.

“In the opening weeks we had quite a few of our key forwards out through injury (Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel, Alistair Hargreaves, Ross Skeate and Ryan Kankowski).

“So we couldn’t hit the season with a strong forward effort, which has always been one of our strengths.”

He said they had tinkered with the Sharks’ approach as a result and it was a reason for playing a strong, physical player like JP Pietersen in midfield in an attempt to open up space around him.

“That is changing now, with players coming back, and the forwards will take greater responsibility and I hope we’ll see the individuals getting better and better.”

Plumtree said that the Sharks would again play conservatively if that was necessary to achieve victory.

“We putting a plan in place and, if it means kicking more, then that’s what we’ll do. We want to play a brand of rugby that’s exciting but winning remains the priority.

“You can see in the competition that the best defensive sides are winning more than the better attacking sides. The Chiefs and Stormers have the best defence in the competition and they’re both right up there,” the Sharks coach said. “The players were annoyed in losing the Chiefs game when they created opportunities and dropped the ball. We’ve been hard on ourselves at training, and in tidying up our skills, but winning breeds confidence and helps unbelievably.” But, he added, the emphasis would remain on a strong defence. “It is is no coincidence that when our defence functions very well, we win.”

The match kicks off at 5.05 pm on Saturday and South African Mark Lawrence will be the referee.

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