Durban – Sharks coach John Plumtree admitted that ‘stress and nerves’ were key factors to his side’s early struggles against the Cheetahs on Saturday but hailed their fighting spirit which saw them qualify for the Super Rugby playoffs.
The hosts, who will now travel to Brisbane to play the Reds next week, entered the match needing a win to assure their qualification.
After a poor opening 40 minutes, a win looked unlikely as they trailed 15-6 thanks to five penalties from the boot of Cheetahs flyhalf Riaan Smit.
However, tries from Springbok quartet Keegan Daniel, Charl McLeod, Marcell Coetzee and Ryan Kankowski saw them reply with 28 unanswered second-half points to seal a 34-15 win.
“It was quite stressful for all of us,” Plumtree said. “I thought everyone was nervous.
“Our lineout didn’t function, we got free-kicked early for early engagement at the scrum.
“So it was five or six set-pieces that failed in the first 30 minutes and of course we didn’t get any territory after that.
“They were dominating the advantage line at the breakdown because of our lack of getting across that line, so those were the things we had to fix at half-time.”
Key to their recovery were the changes Plumtree made, which included the introduction of Bok forwards Willem Alberts and Bismarck du Plessis, along with a few harsh words in the dressing room.
“You don’t want to know what I said at half-time,” the Sharks boss said.
“They were having a field day against us, our discipline failed because we were under pressure and they kept kicking points.
“It was just a case of turning all that around – and we did.
Two changes further changes, unfortunately, were enforced with Springbok back Patrick Lambie and junior Bok forward Pieter-Steph du Toit both sustaining ankle injuries which, according to Plumtree, will rule them out of the clash against the Reds.
“Pat is not looking good and neither is Piet-Steph ... they are the two main concerns for us,” Plumtree said.
“Pat doesn’t look like he’ll make it.”
The Sharks' coach also confirmed that Frans Steyn will not feature in the playoffs, after an unsuccessful appeal was made to Sanzar – the centre was signed after the April 1 transfer deadline.
Plumtree, who at the time was still uncertain whether his side would be facing the Reds or Crusaders in the next round, admitted he had no preference.
“Both those teams were in the final last year and they’re both champion teams,” he said.
“Everyone says you can’t win on the road, but we’re going to prove everyone wrong.” – Sapa