at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Sharks coach John Plumtree has put his trust in 20-year-old youngster Paul Jordaan to stop the Sonny Bill Williams express train in Saturday’s Super Rugby final, and Patrick Lambie returns to the fullback position.
And the pack of forwards that paved the way for the Sharks’ wins in the semi-final against the Stormers last week and the Reds in the quarter-final the week before remains intact.
Jordaan comes in for injured Tim Whitehead and Lambie replaces Riaan Viljoen, who reverts to the bench.
The latter offered the Sharks a kicking game against the Stormers as Lambie recovered from a long-standing ankle injury.
Lambie not only has presence under the high ball but also poses a counter-attacking threat and has a useful boot, not to mention a goal-kicking option – it will be interesting to see whether Plumtree opts for Frederic Michalak or former first-choice Lambie to take goal kicks
Now that his starting line-up has been decided, Plumtree said his team were ready to embrace history.
“We’ve beaten the Australian conference winners in Australia, the SA winners in SA and now we take on the New Zealand winners in New Zealand,” the coach said.
“It’s been great for our team spirit to knock off the ‘impossible’ two weeks in a row. Our senior players have stepped up and accepted that challenge, and done really well. It has built confidence, and getting to the final adds excitement because of what we’ve been through. It’s given us that little bit of confidence going into the big game.”
The Sharks lost narrowly to the Chiefs in April in Durban, but Plumtree says that game is irrelevant.
“There are a number of changes to our side that played them at Kings Park, so there isn’t a lot of relevance, really.”
As it has turns out, Plumtree has a near full-strength squad to pick from, which is pretty much unheard of at the end of a long tournament.
“There has been some continuity in selection which has been great because it has added belief. At this stage of the competition it’s really important, but at the same time we’ve had some injuries as well, particularly to our midfield. So it’s fantastic having Pat Lambie and Paul Jordaan coming back.”
What does Plumtree make of the Chiefs?
“They are a very good side, they won what was probably the strongest conference out of the three and deserve to be in the final.
“They have played the best rugby consistently throughout the tournament, they have scored a lot of tries and they have a lot of really outstanding individuals. They’ll know that ultimately the best team on the day will get the prize.”
Where does Plumtree think the game will be won and lost?
“Like most finals, defensively it’s going to be really huge.
“You’ll come under pressure at stages and how we react to that pressure is important,” he said. “From an attack perspective, we have to make sure we take opportunities wherever they may present themselves.”
Plumtree said it was motivation for the Sharks that they could become the first SA team to win an overseas final – and the first Sharks team to win the title.
“Obviously we’ve mentioned it because it’s a real fact, but we’ve been focusing on the process of recovery and ticking all the boxes in terms of our preparation, and now it comes down to the mental side of it all,” he said.
“We know we have a lot of support back home and we’re also aware of the fact that no one is really giving us a chance, so it’s an opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong that we can’t pick ourselves up and go again. ” – The Mercury