Fearless attack or more kicking for Sharks against Lions?

Sharks coach John Plumtree wants the senior players, such as captain Lukhanyo Am, to ‘drive the game’ against the Lions on Saturday. Photo: BackpagePix

Sharks coach John Plumtree wants the senior players, such as captain Lukhanyo Am, to ‘drive the game’ against the Lions on Saturday. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Mar 1, 2024


If Charles Dickens was a rugby writer following the Sharks, he might have penned the following after the Lions visited The Tank last month: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

The article could have been headed “A tale of two halves”, and John Plumtree, the Sharks coach, would have nodded in frustrated agreement.

Plumtree said: “We played our best rugby since I took over last July in that first half against the Lions, but we played our worst rugby in the second. We went from one extreme to the other.”

The Lions seemed out of the game when 15 points adrift, but came back from the dead to win 20-18.

In the Sharks’ next United Rugby Championship game, at home to the Stormers, it was close to the opposite – the Durban outfit could barely fashion an attack in the first 40 minutes, but came back strongly in the second to have an outside chance of stealing the spoils at the end of a match they lost 25-21.

But almost comically, they overthrew the line-out as the hooter was going at Kings Park, and one last attacking opportunity to win the game was gone.

You do not need to be Sherlock Holmes to spot the need for consistency in the Sharks’ performances, and Plumtree said this is the chief objective when his charges visit the Lions at Ellis Park in Johannesburg tomorrow (3pm kick-off).

To get that consistency, he accepts that his game plan of full-scale attack cannot be rigid, and he needs captain Lukhanyo Am and the senior players to read the situation and call the shots.

“In New Zealand and England, much greater responsibility is given to the players,” Plumtree said shortly after he returned from a month’s vacation in his home town of Wellington.

“The coaches facilitate and the senior players drive the game. Maybe that balance wasn’t quite right here in Durban.

“The coaches did too much, with the result that the players can’t be held accountable. It amounts to: ‘It’s your plan, and not ours’.

“We are trying to find a better balance in our game between fearless attack and sometimes kicking more,” Plumtree added.

“However you approach it, we need to get better at what we do.

“Maybe I asked too much of the players too soon when I first arrived,” Plumtree acknowledged.

“I was surprised in July at how poor our skills were. You can see now, if you do the same type of session, how the skills have improved.

“We’re getting better every week. Other coaches are noticing it, and our players are starting to enjoy it.

“The problem is that we are not yet perfect in executing our plans.”

But as long as they have a pattern of blowing hot and cold across the 80 minutes, the Sharks will remain in danger of losing games by the small margins they have been.

“Ultimately, we’re looking for consistency in our performances to give some real confidence and belief in how we can play this game. At times we have shown that, but not for long enough,” Plumtree said.

“We haven’t found that real consistency to how we want to perform, although there have been periods where we’ve played some of our best rugby.

“And when we played the Stormers down in Cape Town, it was a gutsy performance built around pressure and good defences, and we stood up in that department.”

Plumtree will name his side this morning.