Settled Sharks in pound seats

Wed, 20 Feb 2013 15:52
Large john plumtree whistle Large john plumtree   ryan kankow Large john plumtree sharks presse Large patrick lambie   john plumt Large john plumtree sharks gestur Large john plumtree gestures Large john plumtree points

The injury list may be extensive, but Sharks coach John Plumtree is adamant it will be a more settled team that will start their 2013 campaign.

The injury list may be extensive, but Sharks coach John Plumtree is adamant it will be a more settled team that will start their 2013 campaign against the Cheetahs on Saturday.

If you roll the clock back 12 months, the Sharks were gearing themselves up for what turned out to be a highly successful season - despite the disappointment of finishing runners-up in both the Super Rugby and Currie Cup competitions.

In February last year the Durban-based franchise was beset by injuries to key players.

The start of their 2013 campaign has been equally disruptive for the same reasons.

Springbok loose forward Willem Alberts (shoulder) is the latest player to join the injury list - which already has key members of the squad like captain Keegan Daniel, centre Tim Whitehead, hooker Bismarck du Plessis, flyhalf Butch James and prop Dale Chadwick ruled out of the first few rounds of the Super Rugby season.

This year, though, the Sharks appear better prepared to handle the situation, or any others that may arise - a key difference that could improve on their third-place South African conference finish and their defeat to the Chiefs in the 2012 Final.

Another big problem for the coastal team last year was their early-season inconsistency - they lost three out of their opening five games - but that was something that was potentially tied in with their lengthy injury list.

"I think we're better prepared than we've ever been, physically and from an organisational point of view," coach John Plumtree said during their pre-season preparations.

"That's the result of having a settled team for a little while now. We've got some nice continuity in what we do."

The Sharks' depth will be crucial this year, with rising stars such as Paul Jordaan, Marcell Coetzee and Craig Burden, who played integral roles for the side during their excellent 2012 Super Rugby run, now a year older.

Highly-rated youngsters Cobus Reinach and Pieter-Steph du Toit emerged during the Currie Cup, with the Sharks losing in the final to Western Province, while Ryan Kankowski is back from his stint in Japan.

They also boast maturity in their Springbok-like squad that features Pat Lambie, Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen and Tendai Mtawarira among others.

Like the Stormers and Bulls, the KwaZulu-Natal outfit have also capitalised on the Lions' absence this year, recruiting the experienced James and lock Franco van der Merwe, who arrived at Kings Park on a season-long loan.

The most notable losses for the Sharks have come in the second row, where Alistair Hargreaves, only a bit-part player last year, Ross Skeate and Steven Sykes have left, along with versatile Frenchman Frederic Michalak.

"If you look at our squad, there is good depth in the backs, good depth in the locks now, good depth among the loose forwards … there is really good competition for places from one right through to 15," Plumtree said.

The Sharks, who thumped the Leopards (71-8) and Pumas (50-19) in pre-season warm-ups, will be led by Frans Steyn during the opening six weeks, at least, as Daniel recovers from a knee injury.

"Frans becomes the ideal candidate for the captaincy in terms of experience," Plumtree said.

"I've noticed a big difference in him in terms of his personality and character since he's come back from France.

"The players have a lot of respect for him as an individual and as a player."

The Sharks kick-off their Super rugby campaign against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

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FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Fri, 27 May 2016
Hurricanes v Highlanders 07h35 Wellington
Waratahs v Chiefs 09h40 Sydney
Boland v Eagles 13h00 Wellington
Free State Cheetahs v Pumas 13h00 Bloemfontein
Kings v Jaguares 17h00 Ascoli Piceno
Border v Falcons 17h00 East London
Sat, 28 May 2016
Blues v Crusaders 07h35 Eden Park
Brumbies v Sunwolves 09h40 Canberra
Western Province v Griquas 10h15 Newlands
Blue Bulls v Leopards 12h15 Loftus Versfeld
Stormers v Cheetahs 13h00 DHL Newlands
Namibia v Griffons 13h00 Windhoek
Golden Lions v EP Kings 13h00 Johannesburg
Saracens v Exeter Chiefs 14h00 London
Bulls v Lions 15h05 Loftus Versfeld
Leinster v Connacht 16h30 Edinburgh
Sun, 29 May 2016
Rebels v Force 06h05 Melbourne
England v Wales 14h00 London
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Pool AU
Team P W D L Pts
Waratahs 11 6 0 5 30
Brumbies 11 7 0 4 29
Rebels 10 5 0 5 23
Reds 13 3 1 9 16
Force 11 2 0 9 11
Pool NZ
Team P W D L Pts
Chiefs 11 9 0 2 42
Crusaders 11 9 0 2 41
Highlanders 11 8 0 3 37
Hurricanes 11 7 0 4 36
Blues 11 6 1 4 29
Pool SA1
Team P W D L Pts
Bulls 11 7 1 3 32
Stormers 11 6 1 4 32
Cheetahs 11 3 0 8 16
Sunwolves 11 1 1 9 9
Pool SA2
Team P W D L Pts
Lions 11 8 0 3 37
Sharks 12 7 1 4 35
Jaguares 11 2 0 9 13
Kings 11 1 0 10 4