Things get worse for Plum

2013-04-22 00:00

THE Sharks, battered, beaten and three players short, left Johannesburg last night on their four-match Super Rugby tour of New Zealand and Australia.

Two loosehead props, Springbok Beast Mtawarira and understudy Allan Dell, who was playing in Port Elizabeth, along with promising wing Andries Coetzee, were all injured on Saturday and have stayed behind in Durban.

The Durban team are hoping to borrow Lions captain and loosehead JC Janse van Rensburg and rush him to New Zealand in time for Saturday’s first game against the Chiefs in Hamilton.

Sharks manager Rudolf Straeuli told The Witness yesterday that a decision on replacements would only be taken today “once we have looked at our in-house talent and seen what is available elsewhere. But only 23 of the 26 selected players are on the plane to New Zealand”.

Coach John Plumtree described Saturday evening’s 12-6 loss to the Cheetahs as a “very big loss on the eve of the tour and one which has placed us under pressure”.

The Sharks are level on the log with the Cheetahs (27 points) with the Bulls one point ahead and leading the South African conference.

But the Bulls and Cheetahs have completed their overseas tour and the Sharks, down in confidence, personnel and spirit, face the champion Chiefs and the Highlanders before travelling across the Tasman Sea to play the Reds and the Force in Australia.

“It is really tough. We now have some 15 guys out injured and that’s a whole team,” said Plumtree.

“We haven’t got 26 fit players to tour and that’s our focus now, to find a fit squad. It makes it difficult to prepare because every week at practice, there are new players to integrate into the team.”

But the coach said the Sharks could and should have beaten the Cheetahs.

“We played nearly all the rugby and tried to be ambitious in the wet conditions. They didn’t try and play too much, and kicked all evening, but they did score two tries off our mistakes.”

Plumtree said he could not fault the effort of his players.

“But we were not accurate on attack and perhaps with older heads, we would have been more composed on attack and taken better options. It is really frustrating for us. I just ask everyone to be patient.”

The Sharks lost Test prop Beast Mtawarira (torn calf) after 24 minutes.

“I think that changed the game,” said Plumtree.

“We planned to attack their scrum and we had them under pressure until the Beast went off.”

First Jannie du Plessis and then Wiehahn Herbst, both tightheads, were used on the loosehead, but the Sharks scrum suffered badly.

But the bottom line is that the current Sharks cannot buy a try and they have lost, one hopes temporarily, the ability to exploit space and play the high tempo rugby which was a feature of their rugby last year.

The one exception on Saturday evening was fullback Riaan Viljoen, who started in his first game this season and launched many of the Sharks’ most dangerous attacks.

But for the rest, the Sharks kept taking the ball into contact, frequently turning over possession to the waiting, streetwise Cheetahs.

Coach Naka Drotské was understandably delighted with his Cheetahs and they meet the Kings in Bloemfontein on Saturday before their first bye.

“We felt that if we were to go on and win the conference, we had to beat the Sharks.

“We’re in a good position with a settled team and we have been very lucky with injuries.”

Plumtree admitted the Sharks players were suffering in defeat.

“There were also one or two close calls which could have changed the outcome,” he said.

“We’ll go through the usual grieving period after a loss and then build the players up for Saturday.

“But, I’m starting to get that desperate feeling, that everything is just working against us.”

And so say all of us.

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