John Plumtree has been marching to Pretoria in some form or another for over 30 years and he says nothing has changed in terms of what is required for a Sharks win at Loftus Versfeld.
As a player for Natal in the ’90s and as coach of the Sharks and Hurricanes, nothing has changed – the forward battle trumps all else if the Bulls are to be corralled.
“There is plenty of excitement in our backline,” Plumtree said, after naming an unchanged squad apart from Aphiwe Dyantyi coming in for the injured Werner Kok for tomorrow’s URC derby.
“Aphiwe provides a slightly different skill set to Werner. Aphelele Fassi is in good form. Makazole Mapimpi will be better off for the run he had last week. Our midfield is starting to get continuity.
“Curwin (Bosch) is developing some confidence and is working very closely with (attack coach) Dave Williams, and our two nines (Jaden Hendrikse and Grant Williams) are great players.
“There is plenty to look forward to from our backline but it will be won and lost up front, like most games, and certainly at 3pm at Loftus. Certainly, the forward pack that creates momentum for their backs will win the game.”
This game will be the biggest occasion for Dyantyi since his comeback from a four-year suspension began tentatively two months ago. Plumtree has carefully managed the former Bok wing and has reiterated that too much should not be expected of him too soon.
“I said at the beginning of the season that expectations should be realistic for a guy who has been out of the game for a very long time,” Plumtree said.
“I am excited about where he is going to go.
“He is a great athlete and is very quick, but small parts of his game require work, such as understanding how he fits into the game plan. But when the game gets unstructured he is exciting to watch because he is capable of doing anything. He is on the right track.”
The Sharks ended a five-game losing streak last week when they scored 10 tries against the Dragons but they remain underdogs for tomorrow’s big derby.
“A win for us would be great in terms of where we sit on the log, but ultimately our challenge is to go out there and execute the plan we have in place,” Plumtree said.
“We must give maximum effort in the jersey. It is about us going there and giving it our best shot. The Bulls have won most of their games and are a settled side. We know how tough it is going to be.”
Kick-off tomorrow is at 3pm and that means the visitors will face the twin influences of the heat and the altitude.
But Plumtree says external factors are not a focus for him.
“We don’t talk about the humidity in Durban and we have not spoken about the heat in Pretoria,” he said.
“It will be hot for both teams. It will be the players that can dig the deepest in the darkest times – that is the challenge.
“Both benches will have a huge impact. That is what makes it even more of a challenge for us. We want to play the game at the highest tempo — whether it is hot or cold.
“There is a danger we might run out of puff but if we play well, maybe they will run out of puff first.”
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Francois Venter, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Phepsi Buthelezi, 6 James Venter, 5 Emile van Heerden, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Fez Mbatha, 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu.
Replacements: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Corne Rahl, 20 Jeandre Labuschagne, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Boeta Chamberlain, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.