Durban – A depleted Sharks squad flew to Sydney on Sunday night after three players were injured in weekend action, but the biggest blow could be psychological after the loss to the Cheetahs saw the Sharks slip from the top of the SA Conference to third place.
The Free State team went ahead of the Sharks on the log, as did the Bulls following their big win over the Kings in Port Elizabeth, and from third on the overall log the Sharks are now seventh, with four tough tour games ahead of them and 15 players on the injured list.
The players who were unpacking their suitcases yesterday were props Tendai Mtawarira and Alan Dell (the promising youngster injured his knee playing for the Sharks XV in a Vodacom Cup match), and wing/fullback Andries Coetzee, who had just joined the Sharks on loan from the Lions.
No replacements have been confirmed and the Sharks flew out with 23 players, meaning they can bring over another three to boost them to their full tour complement of 26. The problem is who to call up, and yesterday Sharks commercial manager Rudolf Straueli said they were looking at various options, including recruiting another Lions player in loosehead prop JC Janse van Rensburg. Another option is the up-and-coming Julian Redelinghuys, while long-term injured prop Dale Chadwick is not yet fit.
The loss of The Beast will be keenly felt, and he is the latest in a long line of senior players to be crocked. Coach John Plumtree had hoped to have Bismarck du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Jacques Botes, Tim Whitehead, Lwazi Mvovo and Butch James on tour, but they are still a long way off being ready to play.
Plumtree had no choice but to put on a brave face, and he said that for some time he’d had a sinking feeling that this was going to be one of those seasons when little goes right.
“We are having so much bad luck,” he said. “At the time when Beast went down we had the Cheetahs under pressure at scrum time, but things changed when he went off.
“To lose such an influential player the day before you go on tour is a big blow, but we just have to deal with it, as we have been all season.”
The positive to the injury crisis is that the Sharks will eventually get the players back, but in the meantime they cannot afford to slip too far down the log.
“This time last year we had lost more games than we have now and we still managed to make the final, but there was a lot of pressure towards the end of the competition,” Plumtree said. “This year we have to keep picking up points because we don’t want to be in a situation where we get our top guys back but we don’t have enough games left to qualify for the play-offs.”
The coach called on supporters to be patient with the players, who were doing their best.
“It is not an easy time for us, we have 15 guys out, and that is a whole rugby team,” he said. “At trainings we are having to go over basic plays because we have so many new players. I am being patient with the players, although some of the selection changes last week did not show that.
“There is still a lot of effort going in from the players, and we could have beaten a settled Cheetahs team if we’d had better fortune.
“We almost snatched it in the last second (after a break by Paul Jordaan, but then a poor option from Cobus Reinach when he took the ball up instead of feeding a big overlap to his right).” – The Mercury