Sharks starting to shift emphasis
The return of some key forwards from injury and the gaining of fitness and momentum of other members of the pack should see the Sharks start to shift the emphasis of their game over the coming weeks.
The Sharks were already committed to a more territory orientated game against the Highlanders. It was something that the Sharks were criticised for by some of their fans and commentators, but coach John Plumtree felt it was unavoidable against the New Zealand team because of their approach to the breakdown.
“It is hard to be positive against the Highlanders because of the way they flood the breakdown. When the Stormers beat them in Dunedin a couple of weeks ago they did not do much playing, with their points coming from counter-attacks,” said Plumtree.
Plumtree gave a strong hint that the forwards will be relied upon more and more in the remaining weeks as the Sharks continue with a five match sequence in which every game is seen as a final as the Durban franchise chases the conference win that they see as an imperative if they are to have any chance of winning the Super Rugby competition.
“In the opening weeks we had quite a few of our key forwards out through injury. Beast Mtawarira was not there, someone like Jannie du Plessis was battling with injury, Willem Alberts was just coming back from injury and Jean Deysel was out, and of course so was Alistair Hargreaves and we quickly lost Ross Skeate and Ryan Kankowski.
“So we couldn’t hit the season with a strong forward effort, which is always been one of our strengths. Apart from the guys who weren’t there, too many of the other guys weren’t fully fit because they were easing their way back. That though is changing now, with players coming back and those that are there getting fitter and thus able to take on greater responsibility.
“We adjusted our game in the early stages to play to different strengths, and that was one of the reasons I played JP Pietersen at centre. He was a big runner and ball player who could occupy opposing defences and open up space around him. But now with our forwards coming back into it we can start becoming a lot more direct and play with our forwards more.”
That does not mean the Sharks will hit the Western Force at Mr Price Kings Park on Saturday with an all-out forward assault, and Plumtree is certainly not rushing to give his team’s game strategy away. It’s just that each week from now on the Sharks can be expected to increase their reliance on a more physical, forward based approach of the sort that used to make a visit to Durban a treacherous and bruising prospect for opposing teams.
The good news for Plumtree after the first flush-out session on a Kings Park outerfield on Monday was that he has no injury concerns to worry about as he builds up to the Force game, something in marked contrast to the situation he faced for most of the first half of the season.
“We certainly came out of the weekend game in a much better condition than the Highlanders. We have no-one injured and although we were a bit light in training as some players were being managed, we should have a full complement to choose from at the weekend. Steve Sykes came off with a bit of cramp against the Highlanders and is feeling a bit tight but he will be fine to play.”