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Sunday, July 21, 2024

We will make you proud again, vows Sharks coach John Plumtree after Zebre loss

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Don’t blame the coach for the Sharks’ wretched start to the United Rugby Championship. As they would say in New Zealand, John Plumtree doesn’t have “the cattle” right now.

On Friday night in Parma, the Sharks were disappointing in losing 12-10 to a Zebre side that had lost 28 consecutive games over the last 18 months. The Sharks return home with a solitary log point and, to point out the obvious, the only way is up from the bottom of the ladder.

It was clear from the performance against Zebre that the Sharks urgently need reinforcements because some players are battling at this level. This is not the coach’s fault — he has inherited a squad that has an unfortunate imbalance.

We have seen this for a few seasons now — when the Springbok stars play the Sharks fire and when they are absent, the next tier struggles.

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Sharks need those Boks

Last year, we saw Sean Everitt sacked after a heavy home loss to Cardiff with what was basically a Currie Cup team but a few weeks later, when the Boks were back, the Sharks shone.

It is going to take Plumtree time to improve the current players. He has the experience and coaching skills to get them up to scratch but it can’t happen overnight and not when you start the season with a four-week tour.

This was exacerbated by away games to champions Munster and former champions Leinster, fixtures this young Sharks team were always unlikely to win. Confidence then plummets and losing becomes a habit.

It doesn’t help when injuries occur in the same position — locks Gerbrandt Grobler, Le Roux Roets, and Reniel Hugo are all injured.

This week the Sharks host Connacht at Hollywoodbets Kings Park and the good news is that they will have the seasoned Lukhanyo Am back. The not-so-good news is that a host of Am’s fellow Boks are not available because of the mandatory three-week rest period that Rassie Erasmus has decreed.

Am never actually played in France after he replaced the injured Makazole Mapimpi, so he has been freed to play. Still, I don’t understand why players who had little game time at the World Cup — Jaden Hendrikse and Grant Williams — are being forced to rest.

It is a different story with warhorses in Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonambi, and Ox Nche to a lesser degree, but not allowing a fringe player like Hendrikse to play is unfair to the Sharks and the player.

A hurting Plumtree has reiterated his plea for patience from supporters.

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No quick fix

“When I came in I knew there would be no overnight fix, but what I can promise our fans is that we will do everything we can to get things right and do this jersey proud again,” he said. “I called for patience in the pre-season and it’s a difficult period right now because no one likes losing. I know that our loyal fans will stick by us and we will make you proud once again.”

Plumtree said that he was disappointed in his team’s performance and saw a massive 18 turnovers conceded to the Italians, mostly because of mistakes.

“A lot of our basic skill sets let us down. Losing the aerial battle alone was key because it allowed them to dominate territory. The yellow and red card did not help the situation.

“On a positive note, we had a couple of nice moments on the attack but didn’t capitalise on the available opportunities. I was proud of the effort around our goal line defence and many young players stood up physically.

“This has been a disappointing tour and we have picked up some key injuries in the same positions, which have been tricky to navigate especially with eight of our Springboks unavailable.

We could have picked up a win or two, but that didn’t happen. We are looking forward to getting back home now and will reset and continue to work hard to get some momentum going and improve our results at home.”

IOL Sport

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