John Plumtree says the Sharks always believed that they would overcome their travel fatigue in Saturday’s semi-final and has high hopes of toppling the Chiefs in the final.
The Sharks went into Saturday’s semi-final as underdogs. They may have played the best rugby over the past few weeks and are a team stacked with Springboks, but it was widely believed that travelling to Australia and back in the space of a week would drain them physically.
They were up against a Stormers side that had finished top of the Super Rugby league. They were playing a side that boasted an unbeaten record at Newlands in 2012. What chance did the Sharks realistically have?
Plumtree was satisfied yet measured when speaking about his side’s performance following the 26-19 victory on Saturday. Not many would have marked them as favourites in this situation, but as Plumtree reveals, what ultimately mattered was that the team believed the win was within their grasp.
‘We have gathered confidence and grew a bit at the same time [in the build up to the play-offs],’ the Sharks coach said. ‘It has just snowballed, the team has really started to believe in themselves 20 to 30% more.
‘That was crucial, we were playing knockout rugby five or six weeks ago and that hardened us and the leadership grew with that.’
The Sharks travelled 11 000km to Brisbane for last week’s qualifying play-off, and 11 000km back for this week’s semi-final in Cape Town. Plumtree played down the travel factor and it’s effect on their preparations and on the players’ bodies.
‘We never made a big thing about it. We didn’t want to use it as an excuse and I think that was critical to this performance. I’m really proud of the way the guys got over it mentally.
‘My own personal opinion about it [jet-lag] is that the players are younger and get over it quicker. We’ve just got to get these boys back up for the final.’
The Sharks will fly out to Australasia on Sunday. They plan to stay in Sydney for the week and fly to Hamilton on Friday. The final will take place on Saturday.
‘If we can get up physically for this game, anything can happen,’ said Plumtree. ‘That’ll be the challenge for us.’
Losing captain of the Stormers Jean de Villiers said it would make for a fantastic story if the Sharks could win the title in spite of the challenges of travel.
‘I said it earlier in the week, the Sharks are on a roll, and you wouldn’t bet against them. They’ve shown they can overcome the travel factor.
‘It will be tough, and I think the whole of South Africa should get behind them now,’ said De Villiers. ‘They’ve got a fantastic chance.’
By Jon Cardinelli, at Newlands