Sharks should aim for early hit
Sharks coach John Plumtree faces a pleasant selection dilemma ahead of Saturday’s Absa Currie Cup final against Western Province, but he shouldn’t have to think too long before deciding which way to go.
Plumtree’s quandary, such as it is, revolves around the re-integration of his first choice Springboks into the starting team. Should he take the next step in the progression of the past three weeks by bringing back Beast Mtawarira and Willem Alberts, plus perhaps Craig Burden, or should he again play them off the bench.
The good thing for Plumtree is that he knows he isn’t taking too much of a risk either way. He backed Dale Chadwick to play loosehead ahead of Beast last week, and he delivered. So too did hooker Kyle Cooper. And Jean Deysel might well be a starting international player in any other other country, he is that good.
The Currie Cup season has definitely achieved its objective for the Sharks. As the past few weeks have shown, they have quality back up in every position, which holds them in good stead for the next edition of the arduous Super Rugby competition. And let’s not forget either that some stars of the Sharks for next year, such as Frans Steyn and Ryan Kankowski, haven’t even been seen in the domestic competition.
But the issue at hand for Plumtree is whether he should bring his Boks back into the starting team, and the answer is that yes, certainly in the case of Mtawarira, he should do. For if he looks back at past wins that his team has scored against WP and the Stormers, the foundation has tended to be laid by a strong early scrumming platform and a strong physical approach from the off.
Bismarck du Plessis is not available for this game as he continues his rehabilitation from serious injury, but the Sharks acknowledged afterwards that they may have made a mistake when they played the aggressive hooker off the bench in a key Super Rugby clash with the Stormers in Cape Town last April. The Stormers were allowed to settle, to get into the game, and by the time Du Plessis came onto the field, the Cape team already had enough of a physical ascendancy.
WP have always been dangerous when allowed to settle, and they do provide a different challenge to the Bulls, so Plumtree would probably be right to select what he considers his first choice front-row for the final, with Steve Sykes also being added to the starting team after playing off the bench a week ago to give the Sharks as close as possible a replica of the tight five that did the business against these same opponents in the 2010 final.
With the blindside flank position it may be another story in that there isn’t much to choose between Alberts and Deysel and the former does excel in the impact role. There again maybe, just maybe, Plumtree doesn’t need to make a choice between Alberts and Deysel, as Alberts did well for him as a lock in Super Rugby.
Plumtree has told journalists he is thinking of bringing SA under-20 star Pieter-Steph du Toit into his 22 for the final, and that may reflect his intentions in the second row. Du Toit played blindside flank for the Sharks under-20 team in their semifinal against Western Province last Saturday and that could be the position he ends up covering from the bench if Alberts gets selected into the second row.
Whatever he decides, Plumtree won’t be guided by emotion in his making his decision, and he feels he has given all his players enough of an opportunity now in the playoff phases to make them feel part of the success.
“We have all been together now for a couple of weeks, so there might be less headache for me now when it comes to reintegrating the Boks,” said Plumtree at a press conference in Durban.
“We feel for the players who will get left out after going through the whole campaign, but that is just the way it is. I could go with an unchanged team, or I could make changes.”