fast little loans
Emotions ran high in both change rooms after the super-charged Super Rugby semi-final between the Stormers and the Sharks ended with the Durban team winning their eighth game out of their last nine matches, while the Stormers – for the second year in a row after the Crusaders won last year’s semi at Newlands – choked against a team that had flown 10 000km for the match.
A visibly elated John Plumtree joked that he was “too wired with emotion” to talk too much sense, while his opposite number, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, said he had never seen a change room of players “so cut up”.
“We have had our share of disappointment in recent seasons, but I have never seen players take it (defeat) so badly,” Coetzee said.
In the Sharks’ dressing room, Plumtree said that most of the players were covered in ice as they sought relief from their battle wounds, but that those who could were celebrating. “Bismarck has obviously recovered well from his early knock (he got floored by Eben Etzebeth) because when I walked out he was dancing – very badly!”
When Plumtree had composed himself he reflected sagely on the game and his team’s run to get to the final.
“I am not sure there are too many teams than could have won in Brisbane and Cape Town on successive weekends in knock-out games, so I am immensely proud of the will to win and the indomitable team spirit,” he said.
“We had a lot of excuses for losing this game, such as the travel, but the players chose to ignore them. In fact the pressure was probably more on the Stormers, and they will be shattered at losing out on a home final after having won the conference and been the most consistent side through the year,” Plumtree said.
“These games are about pressure, and it was firmly on them. We had nothing to lose, while they were fresh, at home, and were primed to go,” he continued.
“In fact they physically beat us up, but we took it on the chin, dug our heels in and refused to budge.”
Plumtree said that the key to the win was a belief that had been growing in the side since mid-season.
“If we had played a game of this magnitude at the beginning of the season, I don’t think we would have won it,” he said. “But we gathered confidence and have grown as a team since we beat the Bulls (having lost to the Lions in their previous match). It has snowballed.
“The team is believing in themselves 40 percent more than before the break for the June Tests,” the coach said. “The seniors in the team had to take greater ownership, and that was crucial because to do well we had to win knockout games for five weeks in a row. That hardened us, and the leadership grew with that.”
Plumtree said that there was a period when the influence of the leadership group had not been good enough, and he had to crack the whip with a heart-to-heart meeting with the players.
“It was tracking at about 40 percent in terms of what the seniors could contribute. We had an important meeting about it and the commitment from the seniors has doubled, and as the seniors started leading, we started playing better.”
The Sharks spent yesterday in Cape Town in recovery mode and last night flew to Joburg and on to Sydney, where they will be based until Thursday, when they travel to Hamilton in New Zealand to put the final touches to their preparations for Saturday’s final against the Chiefs.l
The Sharks took with them two injured players that they expect to be available for selection for the final in fullback Patrick Lambie (ankle) and Paul Jordaan (hamstring).
To lift the trophy against the Chiefs in Hamilton, though, the Sharks will have to do what has only been achieved once in the history of Super Rugby – win a final in another country. In 2000, the Crusaders travelled to Canberra where they beat the Brumbies by 20-19.
Only two teams have won finals away from home – the Crusaders also did it in 1998 (against the Blues in Auckland) and 1999 (against the Highlanders in Dunedin), while the Bulls beat the Sharks in Durban in 2007. But in each of those matches, the final was played in the eventual winners’ home country. – The Mercury