Sharks must counter Reds’ pressure play

RYAN VREDE writes the Sharks will lose if they don’t find a way to combat the Reds’ efficient multi-phase approach.

The defending champions bring an unbeaten record to Durban on Saturday despite missing inspirational flyhalf Quade Cooper (serious knee injury) and having other injuries compromise selection continuity.

However, they have shown their class in adapting to these setbacks, tailoring their approach to the strengths of the available personnel as well as adapting to the referees’ current vigilance in punishing breakdown infringements. They’ve reigned in their preferred expansive approach, employing a phase-based method that has brought good reward.

They’ve played through 393 phases (131 per match) which has enabled them to build pressure on their opponents. While there has been little by way of linebreaks the Reds have forced numerous penalties, with flyhalf Mike Harris proving to be a deadly goalkicker to date, slotting 15 of 17 three-point attempts. Indeed 45 of their 71 points have come by way of penalties.

The Sharks didn’t respond well to this tactic in their defeat to the Bulls in the opening match, consistently infringing at ruck time and allowing Morné Steyn to build the Bulls’ lead. They improved slightly in this regard against the Stormers a week later, although it was once again their ill-discipline at the breakdown that cost them.

The Reds are by no means a one-dimensional team, with the likes of Will Genia, Digby Ioane, Ben Tapuai and Rod Davies among others capable of punishing teams in open field. However, it would be foolish to ignore the trend in their method. In this regard, discipline will be central to any Sharks victory.

Coach John Plumtree will be well advised to have a special word with Bismarck du Plessis. An undoubtedly gifted player, Du Plessis has the tendency to concede penalties at crucial times and in kickable positions. He leads the tournament in penalties conceded (8) and did so for much of 2011.

The Sharks snapped their two-match losing streak with a win over the Lions at the weekend and Plumtree stressed the importance of building on that platform.

‘Hopefully we get better now that we have a win under the belt. When you’re two-zip down in a tournament like this, you need to stay away from losing more games consecutively, so we’re pleased that we beat the Lions,’ he said. ‘Now, hopefully, we can press forward and improve on all of our processes. There are some aspects we’re happy with in our game but still others we’re not. We have to tidy that up.’

Plumtree also drove home the point of avoiding flat periods when in the ascendency.

‘At times against the Lions, we did go to sleep and let them get back into the game and you can’t allow that,’ he said. ‘We worked really hard to get into a good position and then took the foot off the pedal. That stressed us so we’ve got to be more ruthless in that area. The Reds will present something a little bit different on the weekend and we need to be able to cope with that.’

The Sharks are expected to be able to select from the same pool of players available to them last week. Keegan Daniel is nursing a slight ankle injury and Du Plessis is being treated for a knee injury but the medical team is optimistic about his recovery.

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