Sharks coach John Plumtree says the management of his returning Springboks was key in retaining the team’s Currie Cup momentum.
Last season’s domestic campaign saw the Sharks finish second on the log. They were considered the main title favourites ahead of the play-offs as they received the biggest boost of Test players among the four semi-finalists following the Springboks’ World Cup quarter-final exit.
The Sharks enjoyed a return of seven Boks, while WP (six), the Free State Cheetahs (one) and Golden Lions (two) received less.
Plumtree rushed all seven internationals into his starting line-up for the home semi-final against the Cheetahs, which they won 20-13. However, it was an unimpressive overall performance from the victors, who trailed 13-3 at the break.
All seven Boks were retained in the run-on XV for the title decider at Ellis Park, which the Lions won 42-16.
The Lions had greater cohesion as they used same group of players throughout the year. Prop CJ van der Linde was the only returning Bok who started for the Johannesburg union, while flyhalf Butch James was named on the bench.
This season, Plumtree has used a more careful approach after six Test players returned after the Rugby Championship.
In the 42-3 thrashing of Griquas a fortnight ago, only flank Marcell Coetzee and flyhalf Pat Lambie started, while hooker Craig Burden, tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis and wing Lwazi Mvovo were used off the bench.
In the 20-3 semi-final win over the Blue Bulls, Plumtree started Coetzee, Lambie, Mvovo and Du Plessis, while flank Willem Alberts joined Burden on the wood.
The latter selection plan is likely to be used for the final on Saturday, with the inclusion of Baby Bok utility forward Pieter-Steph du Toit likely to be the only change to the Sharks match 22.
‘I definitely learnt my lesson last season,’ Plumtree told keo.co.za. ‘I think our fortunate position at the top of the log allowed me to ease the Springboks back into the team.
‘The depth that they bring to the squad gives me less headaches, but I feel for the guys who I have to leave out, after doing so well during the earlier rounds.’
When posed the question whether the Boks should be rested during the Currie Cup, Plumtree believed the threat of relegation forces unions to use their internationals.
‘With the six-team format, the threat of relegation among the big unions is greater,’ said Plumtree. ‘To avoid that danger, they will play their best players. If you want to encourage the unions to rest their Springboks, then you have to take away that threat.’
Griquas, WP, the Cheetahs and Bulls all faced the threat of relegation ahead of the last round of league fixtures. This saw Province, Free State the and Bulls include all of their available Boks in their respective match-day squads.
This proved costly from a Bok perspective as prop Coenie Oosthuizen (Free State), hooker Tiaan Liebenberg (WP), lock Andries Bekker (WP), centre Jean de Villiers (WP) and flank Jacques Potgieter (Bulls) all suffered injuries over the last fortnight.
By Gareth Duncan, in Durban