Home Sport Sharks show of character in comeback win excites Plumtree

Sharks show of character in comeback win excites Plumtree

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It has taken Sharks coach John Plumtree close to a year to get the team culture right, which presented itself during a crucial 10 minutes this past weekend against Clermont.

Sharks head coach John Plumtree. Picture: Bryan Keane, INPHO, Shutterstock (14160479k)

Mike Greenaway

When John Plumtree retook the reins of the Sharks in July last year, he likened his new job to caring for a toddler.

New CEO John Smit had sacked the big Kiwi at the end of 2012 and the 11 years he spent away from Durban meant some seismic changes at The Tank.

Not long after his reappointment, he said: “A lot has changed in my absence and while my love for the Sharks is undiminished, I see a lot that’s not right and I doubt I will get sustained success until I have changed some structural issues.

“I feel I have a baby in my hands that needs nurturing and showing what is important in life.”

More than anything, the 59-year-old saw a problem with the team’s culture. He saw a group of well-paid mercenaries who had scant knowledge or respect for the history of the Sharks.

Plumtree asked the public for patience as losses mounted in the United Rugby Championship.

“It takes time to rebuild the culture of the team and to get the players to understand the foundations required for a winning team. It doesn’t just happen.”

It has taken Plumtree almost a year to get it right and the moment of clarity came 10 minutes into the second half of the Sharks’ Challenge Cup semi-final against Clermont at the weekend.

The Durbanites looked dead and buried at 31-18 but suddenly a switch flicked. They pulled themselves together and played with enormous passion. Eben Etzebeth transformed into a monster and inspired his teammates with an adamant refusal to lose.

“The character I had been speaking about for months suddenly came through,” said Plumtree. “We were in a dire position but the leaders took over and explained how we were going to win the match.

“At half-time we spoke about being only 10 points down. We got good messages from our leaders. I felt if we could get our game going, playing a bit more with the ball and creating more pressure, and with a bit of luck, we could pinch the game.

“It was a case of never giving up. This is where I want to go with this team. After winning that game when all seemed lost, the guys understand now what can be achieved by collective hunger.”

The emotion on the faces of the Sharks players suggested they understood what the coach had been banging on about for a year.

Player of the match Siya Masuku, who kicked six first-half penalties in answer to Clermont’s three tries, was tearful in the post-match interview.

His selection for the Sharks’ URC match against Ulster in Durban in January is a significant part of how the Sharks have turned things around, with six wins in their past seven games.

At last, a coach had the conviction to drop Curwin Bosch for good and give somebody else a chance.

Masuku was rusty in that game against Ulster but the pivotal change was his willingness to take the ball to the advantage line and ask questions of the defence. The Sharks’ game has changed significantly as a result. They were literally going nowhere when Bosch was taking the ball deep in the pocket and his static backs were getting tackled backward and behind the gain line.

And the exciting news is that Jordan Hendrikse is on his way from the Lions to the Sharks and his battle with Masuku will up the flyhalf ante. Masuku’s touchline conversion of Makazole Mapimpi’s try was a moment where he showed big-match temperament (BMT). It gave the Sharks the lead with just nine minutes to go.

Masuku might just get a break this week as the Sharks revert to the URC with the visit of Benetton.

He has put in some serious yards over the past two months and now might be the time to give him a rest and allow Bosch a shot at proving he is not finished and that he can change his game.

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