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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Winless Sharks must be wary of ‘dangerous, unpredictable’ Connacht

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Connacht have arrived in Durban without two of Ireland’s best attackers at the Rugby World Cup, Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen, but they remain another tough Irish challenge for the winless Sharks.

Aki was hailed as Ireland’s best player at the recent World Cup in France, while Australian-born Hansen was one of their deadliest finishers from the right wing.

The men from Galway won their first three United Rugby Championship games without their Ireland internationals, and lost last week in Edinburgh to a last-minute drop goal.

But it is in the forwards that Sharks coach John Plumtree feels Connacht are a serious threat at Kings Park tomorrow. Kick-off is at 5pm.

“Connacht are another experienced, confident and settled Irish team,” Plumtree said.

“They have a lot of URC caps in the forwards, so it is another big challenge for our youthful pack. They play dangerously, very unpredictably.”

The Sharks lost to Ireland’s Leinster and Munster, before taking steps backward against the Ospreys and Zebre to complete an unfortunate tour.

Plumtree, however, is far from disheartened.

“At times we have played some really good rugby,” Plumtree explained. “We were pretty happy with some of our rugby and the growth of our game.

“We’re trying to play more rugby – our ball-in-play time and the number of passes we’re completing has gone up.

“But we’re actually making more mistakes, mainly because the skill sets of some of the players aren’t good enough.”

Plumtree insisted that success is not far away, and he will not deviate from his strategy of getting the Sharks to play a game that is not far off how the All Blacks play.

“We are close. I’m not saying it will all magically fall into place against Connacht, but if we keep believing, it will click sooner rather than later.

“And one of these days we are going to give some teams a good walloping, and the pain will have been worth it.”

The man helping Plumtree mastermind the attack is the much-travelled Dave Williams.

He first made a name for himself when the Southern Kings team he coached in Super Rugby in 2017 scored some great tries, with Makazole Mapimpi grabbing some extraordinary touchdowns on the wing for the Eastern Cape side.

“Dave has done a great job in attack with the boys, but we’re still not hitting the right options that the team provides within our structures,” Plumtree said.

“So, our playmakers have to be able to hit the right options when they are available.

“At times we have hit the right options, but we haven’t been able to finish. We’re not there in attack just yet, but we’re seeing a nice growth.

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“The players have to understand what we want them to do,” Plumtree continued.

“The game drivers must be an extension of Dave Williams’s brain. They must be able to manage the game and take the right options, such as playing to the space if it is there out wide.

“If it is not, they must go up the middle until it is created. And we are creating space, but we are not always getting the ball to that space.”

Plumtree said the new game plan has exposed a lack of conditioning required for the high-tempo approach.

“With the game that we’re trying to play, by the 50th or 55th-minute mark, we’re struggling from a fitness perspective because the players aren’t used to playing with the intensity I’d like them to.

“That’s again part of the brief of our game, and we also have to be able to have an impact off the bench.”

The Sharks are back home from the cold of early winter Europe, and that means they must now deal with the infamous humidity of Durban.

But Plumtree feels too big a deal is made of the slippery conditions generated by the humidity.

“I don’t want to make it a big focus because it distracts the players,” he said. “It is a bit like altitude: the more you speak about it, the more it affects you.

“We do train in it so we do have that advantage, and the more we practice what we want to do in the likely conditions, the more likely we will be okay in it.”

IOL Sport

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