Plumtree beefs up Sharks pack
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Perth - The Sharks underwent another rigorous training session in Perth on Tuesday, and by the end of it there was confirmation of the match 22 that will do duty in the tour finale against the Force on Friday.
Coach John Plumtree has made four changes to the side that lost to the Reds, three of them to the forward pack, as he looks to instil greater physicality after the Sharks failed to dominate the Queenslanders in their disappointing 32-17 loss in Brisbane.
Plumtree has brought back beefy Springbok forwards Willem Alberts and Jannie du Plessis, as well as robust lock Anton Bresler, and in the backline he has opted for the experience of stalwart Odwa Ndungane ahead of the youth of Piet Lindeque.
The latter twice got caught out on defence against the Reds, leading to tries, and he has paid the price.
Incidentally, Ndungane will lead the team out after last week hitting the milestone of 100 Super Rugby caps (90 for the Sharks and 10 for the Bulls).
“We need to go back to Odwa’s experience for this vitally important game. You have to be an exceptional player to play 100 games in this competition,” said Plumtree.
“Odwa has been a great servant of the Sharks and is a very popular team member. He has always got a smile on his face and deserves to be honoured this week.”
Plumtree said that he was pleased with the two training sessions held since a “clearing of the air” team meeting on Monday morning.
“We have trained with some nice intensity this week. You run the risk of injury when you have these kinds of tough sessions, but we needed to get in the right frame of mind for a game we simply have to win,” the coach said.
“We were disappointed with our physicality against the Reds, and we spoke a lot about that, so these sessions have been an opportunity for the guys to blow off some steam.”
Plumtree said the “honesty meeting” held on Monday was aimed at venting frustration after the team’s fifth consecutive loss. “Individual errors are costing the team,” he said.
“The team gets into a downward spiral when those things happen. The affect of a mistake that leads to points is devastating for a team, especially early on. You end up chasing the game. In two of the three defeats on tour we have conceded early points, and that is not like us.”
The burly Alberts has swopped places on the flank with Jean Deysel in what will be the former’s first start of the season. He played two matches for the Sharks XV after recovering from pre-season shoulder surgery, and last week played the second half against the Reds.
“Willem is a big player for us,” Plumtree said.
“He supplies a lot of confidence to the team. He is still fighting his way back to his best fitness, but his injuries are over and he can start his season at last.
“Of late, Jean (Deysel) has been better off the bench for us than starting. He is still coming back from his injuries, so he will play an impact role, and if Tera Mtembu passes a fitness test on his shoulder, he will provide further loose forward cover, with Derick Minnie dropping out of the squad.”
Bresler will be tasked with giving the tight five greater mongrel in coming in for the baby-faced Pieter-Steph du Toit.
“I just want that physicality back in the tight five, and Anton supplies that. Pieter-Steph, by his own standards, did not have a good game last week. He is a young player still learning what Super Rugby is about, and ‘getting up’ each week is one of the key things. Anton is raring to go and Pieter-Steph will have a big role to play off the bench.”