Sharks chase nine-point holiday bonus
The Sharks have plenty motivation to beat Vodacom Super Rugby front-runners the Chiefs in what could well turn out to be the most entertaining match of the round at Mr Price King’s Park on Saturday.
The five log points they picked up in beating the Blues in the final match of their tour this past week has kept them in contention for both the South African conference title and in the battle for supremacy on the overall log even though they have lost four of the eight games they have played so far. And John Plumtree and his charges stand to pick up 14 log points in the space of three weekends if they get a full house against the Chiefs on Saturday.
That is because the Sharks have their first bye of the season the weekend following the Chiefs game, and they pick up an automatic four log points for their week off. Commentators often talk about teams that have a game in hand on their opponents as if that is an advantage, but that is not the case in the Super Rugby format, where having a game in hand means you have already pocketed your automatic four points.
So while the Stormers and Bulls have a seven point lead over the Sharks on the Super Rugby log, it needs to be factored in that they have four points for playing one game less than the Durban team. That all gets squared up over the next two weeks, with the two conference front-runners in action while the Sharks sit out, and if either of those two teams lose, the Sharks will be right back in the race.
So that is the call to the Sharks players this week from their management -- go for bust this week and a win, which could well come with a bonus point against a Chiefs team that could be seduced into a running game, will ensure you a weekend off where you will be comfortable in the knowledge that you have the momentum of banking 14 points over three weeks.
The Sharks play the Highlanders in Durban in another big game not long after they return from their break, and then comes the big return derby against the Stormers at Kings Park. The two teams were evenly matched in the first round game in Cape Town, with the Cape team winning only because of a questionable penalty that Peter Grant slotted from the touchline, and with players coming back from injury, the Sharks won’t feel they are going into that game without any hope.
The return against the Bulls is scheduled for much later, for after the international window for the Springbok series against England, and who knows where the Bulls will be by then given that they still have to tour and that a sizeable proportion of their current management looks set to be committed to the Boks. At this stage it also looks likely that more Bulls players than Sharks players will be playing in the England series.
But first things first, and it will be a massive challenge for the Sharks to beat the Chiefs, who were probably much better than the closeness of the scoreline against the Cheetahs might suggest. They did score five tries to two, and with the Cheetahs a different team to what they were in seasons past, any win in Bloemfontein is something to be proud of (and the Sharks know that better than anyone!).
The good news is that the Sharks are set to welcome back Bismarck du Plessis this week, and his role as a talismanic forward who carries the ball and turns over opposition ball at the breakdown, and who holds up opponents in the tackle, cannot be under-valued. Plumtree though is in the happy position of for once being able to say that he has to choose between two good players as Craig Burden was the star of the show as Du Plessis’s replacement against the Blues.