WHILE most South African critics are talking up the Sharks as this year’s Currie Cup rugby champions, the coaching staff is determined to drag their players down to earth.
The recent form of the Sharks, their good fortune with injuries and home ground advantage at a critical stage of the season suggest the Currie Cup could finally be on its way back to Durban after 11 years.
But coaches John Plumtree and Grant Bashford are wary of looking too far ahead.
“I think we can improve our defence and there are other aspects of our game to work on,” said Plumtree. “There’s still plenty of rugby to be played and some pretty tough teams waiting for us.”
His assistant Grant Bashford agreed.
“That hype is not coming from us and we’ve told the guys not to be suckered into all this talk.”
As Bashford pointed out, the Sharks have been pacesetters before and stumbled at crucial moments.
The Sharks face Griquas at King’s Park on Saturday and victory will ensure top spot at the end of the round robin season.
“Griquas are different from the other smaller teams. They have a strong, physical pack, they gave the Bulls a hard time at the weekend and they will be determined to finish their season with a strong performance. We can’t afford to be complacent,” said Bashford.
He was critical of the Sharks’ first-half efforts at Ellis Park on Saturday when they beat the Lions 34-20.
“We let ourselves down against the Lions by trying to hit sixes off every ball. We’re a far better side than that and we are not happy with our performance. It wasn’t a collective effort, we didn’t dominate the contact areas and we became impatient and frustrated.”
The coach said the Sharks were close to full strength with only lock Alistair Hargreaves injured.
“I can’t see us too far away from the team that will continue to play for the rest of the season. We’re in a very fortunate position with our bench and we know each guy will have an impact.”
Adding to what has been a successful month were national awards yesterday to scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and head coach Plumtree. They were named as the Absa Player and the Coach of the Month respectively.
Pienaar, in his favoured scrumhalf position, was the unanimous choice of the eight Currie Cup coaches around the country, while Plumtree took the award after guiding the Sharks to successive wins over the Blue Bulls, the Free State Cheetahs, the Falcons and the Lions during September.
Pienaar and Plumtree were each rewarded with R10 000 in prize money.