Sharks punt home semi?

Bismarck du Plessis says that the kicking game the Sharks employed against the Vodacom Cheetahs was a predetermined game-plan to nullify the home team’s strength.

The game was marred by unrelenting punts and counter punts from two teams who are renowned for the ball-in-hand approach. What was even more perplexing for those who have followed the Sharks this season, is that they are at their most devastating when they set-up phases and swing it wide to a dangerous backline.

Du Plessis though defended the tactic, insisting that for the Durban-based side to win the competition they will have to adapt their game-plan to counter the strengths of the opposition.

“We went into the game knowing that the Cheetahs are most dangerous on first phase possession,” he told keo.co.za.

“We wanted to take that option away from them by making sure our kicks didn’t go into touch and in doing so eliminate the option of the lineout.”

The plan failed, as all three of the Cheetahs tries came from driving mauls after they had secured lineout possession. The hooker conceded that their execution of the stratergy was poor, with the kicks often finding the man rather than space.

More alarming for coach Dick Muir though will be that the Vodacom Blue Bulls utilised the same tactic to good effect against the his side in Durban a fortnight ago.

But Du Plessis rejected the notion that they were vulnerable in this facet of play.

“It’s not that we didn’t have the ability to counter their rolling mauls,” he asserted. “If you look at the game in its entirety, they tried to get it going on numerous occasions but we stifled them. But on the day, they were really good in that area and made the chances they had count.”

The loss left the Sharks needing to secure a bonus-point victory in their final league game against the Valke. That would take them to 47 points and they would then be hoping that Griquas can upset Vodacom Western Province and the Cheetahs could beat the Bulls (without the Bulls achieving two bonus points), to secure a home semi-final.

In addition, should the Sharks fail to win at the Absa Stadium and the resurgent Lions wrap up an expected victory against the bottom-placed Pumas, they could miss the play-offs completely.

According to Du Plessis, they will not hit the panic button and pointed to a significant improvement in their performance from their last outing whichs bodes well for the remainder of the tournament.

“There’s always pressure before every game you play, no matter if it’s the bottom-placed team or the log leaders. The Valke game will be no different,” he added.

“We’ll work on those aspects of our game we think we need to improve this week and I have no doubt that we’ll make the semi-final and final.”

By Ryan Vrede