No wonder John Plumtree was miffed when he was not allowed to use the Sharks’ Springboks for three post-World Cup weeks because when he did get them back, the switch was flicked with staggering results.
Two weeks ago Plumtree had questioned the wisdom of Bok fringe players like Jaden Hendrikse and Grant Williams being idle when their province urgently needed them, and those two players alone made a big difference in the Sharks slaying the Dragons 69-14 on Saturday with a rousing exhibition of attacking rugby.
Also, during the Sharks’ horror start to the United Rugby Championship, Plumtree prophesied that his team was not far off giving some teams a “good walloping”. And that came to pass thanks to the addition of the experience and leadership of Eben Etzebeth, Ox Nche, Hendrikse, Makazole Mapimpi, and Williams, while Lukhanyo Am was very good in his second match back.
Mapimpi was the player of the match, while Etzebeth, Am, and Williams (two tries) all contributed to the scoreboard.
“I thought our Springboks were great,” Plumtree said with his first smile in a media conference this season.
“It’s not easy when you come back from such a high as they have done. Some of them haven’t played rugby for quite a while, so they were a little bit rusty and a little bit nervous.
“But the time they had tonight will be good for next week (the Sharks travel to the Bulls). They were all great with their contributions during the week as well. They just provide that confidence for the rest of the group.
“They were also coming back into a new coaching set-up, so I suppose it’s been a big week for them. So, hopefully they enjoyed it, too. It’s good to have them back.”
The only way is up for the Sharks after a horror start where they lost all four tour games and then contrived to lose 13-12 at home to Connacht. But during those losses, there was evidence that a revival was on the way because of the intent to play positive, attacking rugby.
“I just think with the introduction of five or six real class players we were always going to be better,” Plumtree said.
“I always believed we were heading in the right direction and we just needed a boost. Lukhanyo was better off for his second run as well.”
As pleased as he was to have quality reinforcements, Plumtree was careful to acknowledge the efforts of the foot soldiers who were in the trenches during the five-match losing start.
“You can’t underestimate how the others have improved as well. Our two young locks, Emile van Heerden and Corner Rahl are getting better and better.
“Our loose forwards were outstanding tonight, all three of them (James Venter, Phepsi Buthelezi and Sikhumbuzo Notshe). Everyone’s been working real hard these last few weeks but we just haven’t had any reward for it.
“We’re still not there yet, not as clinical as we want to be ... especially in our own 22 ... There’s still plenty to work on but at least Monday becomes a little bit easier this week.”
Plumtree was thrilled that the adventurous game he has introduced bore handsome fruit in the form of 10 sparkling tries.
“I’m just so happy for our attack coach, Dave Williams, and the rest of the coaching team. They’ve worked really hard for us to score some tries like that against a Welsh side that’s pretty tough.
“The Dragons have got a good coaching unit, they’re a tough group. It was a case of wearing them down.
“We had a little bit of luck just before half-time with that try that gave us a good advantage at halftime. And it was a case of us really putting them under pressure early in the second half. It was job done.”