Sharks coach questions the format
Sharks coach John Plumtree is not happy with the Super Rugby format that sees his team return to the league phase of the competition after a four-week break and with the tussle for top-six places delicately poised with just two matches to play.
Plumtree has good reason to feel a bit miffed – along with the Crusaders, the Sharks are the side that has suffered most from injuries picked up playing for the national side during the June international window, with kingpins Patrick Lambie and Willem Alberts both ruled out of Friday’s crucial derby against the Bulls in Durban.
“Because we had a bye first game back we have had four weeks off while the other teams have had three,” said Plumtree.
“I am personally not in favour of this as the competition is at a crucial stage and then to have a break like this is pretty hard work. We saw a lot of rusty rugby last week from teams that were doing really well three weeks earlier. Just look at the Crusaders, who lost in Christchurch. How often do they lose in Christchurch? That’s pretty unheard of.
“If you look what we’ve inherited from the Springboks, that doesn’t help either. We’ve got two or three players down because of injuries picked up during the international season (in addition to Boks Patrick Lambie and Willem Alberts, the Sharks also have SA under-20 player Paul Jordaan out). But that’s the draw and that’s what you have to live with. No use in complaining, I suppose.”
Looking at Friday’s game, Plumtree hinted that the all-or-nothing situation the Sharks now find themselves in could favour them, as they appear to react better when effectively playing finals rugby.
The Sharks now have to win both remaining games if they are to qualify for the top six, whereas when they went to Johannesburg a month ago for the match against the Lions, the win over the Stormers the previous week had pushed them into a relative comfort zone.
“I don’t know what it is, but for some reason we have to have the gun pointed squarely between our eyes in order for us to perform. That is when we react better, which is unfortunate. And over the past few seasons it appears to have come down to a match between the Bulls and Sharks to decide the league stage of the season for us.”
Looking at it that way, there is a mixed message for the Sharks. Last year they advanced into the play-offs courtesy of an unexpected but quite heroic win over the Bulls in Pretoria.
But in 2010 it was at Loftus that their quest for a place in the play-offs was finally snuffed out, while in 2009 they narrowly lost a final league game in Durban that was effectively a play-off, with the Bulls then going on to win the competition.