Stars aligning for Sharks
Mon, 22 Oct 2012 16:58
I think he’s [Ludik] been great, absolutely superb
The Sharks are seemingly peaking at the perfect time as they prepare to play host to Western Province in Saturday’s Currie Cup Final.
Individually and collectively, the Durban side have clicked into top gear in recent weeks, winning five matches in succession including a comfortable 20-3 win over the Blue Bulls in last weekend’s semifinal.
Making minimal changes to his team, coach John Plumtree’s balancing act paid rich dividends as he introduced key players back into the fray whilst maintaining cohesion in the side.
“I was really worried about this game [against the Blue Bulls] with regards to integrating players back into our system which is never easy,” admits Plumtree.
“With the outcome, I guess it was right, but it’s not easy for the players or me and now we can look forward to a good week this week and then the final.”
The Sharks' exemplary defence and discipline could also be credited to Plumtree’s continuity in team selection, with the players repaying the faith shown in them by the New Zealand-born coach.
“We asserted a bit of pressure and got rewarded for it and there were some things that went on that the Bulls will be disappointed with, but we were happy to be on top of the penalty count, especially in a semifinal,” said Plumtree.
“We spoke about our discipline and defence being good and not giving away dumb penalties. We achieved that I thought.”
Whilst gelling as a unit, players such as Pat Lambie and the consistent Louis Ludik have been in a rich vein of form and have contributed greatly to the Durban side’s cause in 2012.
Lambie outplayed opposite number Morne Steyn at the weekend, scoring 15 points with the boot and earning his second man of the match award in as many games as well as the praise of his mentor.
“I thought Pat played well, he will be happy with his performance,” said a pleased Plumtree. “Sometimes we got confused between kicking and playing, but that was probably down to the conditions. We could have played a little bit more I think, hopefully we get to play the whole 80 minutes in the final.
“We weren’t entirely on the front foot for the whole game, but when we ran at them we were much better and then the backline functioned but when the forwards failed to give the backs any decent lineout ball, we struggled and then it was a case of defending.”
Ludik continued his scintillating form in the last line of defence in a backline that has been firing on all cylinders.
“I think he’s been great, absolutely superb. He is playing now as I saw him with the Lions before his injury. He’s persevered, trained really hard, now getting back to the best form of his life.
“But it’s hard to single out players; JP has been great, Paul and Tim are gelling in the midfield, Pat has been a huge influence since coming back and Cobus has probably been the find for us this year. There are lots of plusses.”
In addition to their recent success, Plumtree said the depth that they have developed during the campaign will stand them in good stead for next year’s Super Rugby tournament.
“You can rotate players because Super Rugby is so long and tough, ideally you want lots of depth. Us giving guys more time in the Currie Cup has been great.
“Dale Chadwick is growing more, Wiehahn Herbst and Jandre Marais too, these players are getting mature. Pieter-Steph du Toit is playing great rugby and another who will be happy playing Super Rugby next year.”
Plumtree concluded by stressing the importance of home ground advantage in Finals rugby, a statement backed up by history, as the Sharks have fallen short in their last two Finals (both away from home), but prevailed in 2008 and 2010 when they hosted the decider under Plumtree.
“The Super Rugby Final was a game we were probably never going to win given all the travel, and last year appeared to be the Lions’ year in Joburg, but this scenario is different now. The fact that the Boks have a feeling of belonging, that’s important; and it’s at home.
“So it’s different from the last two finals.”
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