Sharks Gearing Up For Must-Win Match
The Sharks know that they will have their hands full containing a Highlanders side on Saturday that is, like themselves, still well in the running for a place in the Vodacom Super Rugby knockout stages.
The visitors will have to do without flank James Haskell (capped 39 times for England) who was found guilty of contravening Law 10.4 (a) Punching or Striking, after being cited during the Highlanders’ match against the Cheetahs on the weekend.
Haskell struck Cheetahs player Justin Downey twice as he left a scrum that was being completed, with a scuffle breaking out between several players following the incident.
As such, Haskell has been suspended from all forms of the game for three weeks to and including Saturday 19 May 2012.
Despite receiving a yellow card, his team still managed to come back from an enormous deficit to win the game narrowly, setting the New Zealand side up nicely to finish their South African tour on a high.
“The Highlanders were pretty impressive against the Cheetahs last weekend,” explains coach John Plumtree.
“They are very aggressive at the breakdown and I thought Marius Jonker penalised them pretty hard for going off their feet which was pleasing to see, and hopefully we’ll see that against this weekend.
“That if they counter ruck, they have to stay on their feet. The referee was also hard on them for slowing possession down and once that area of the game was sorted out, we saw an open game of rugby with a lot of points scored.
“So we’re hoping Steve Walsh (referee for this match) will also be tough in that area on the weekend.”
At 30 points to nine down with half an hour’s play remaining, the Highlanders looked dead and buried, and the Sharks coach praises their tenacity and character to come back and win the game (36-33).
“The Highlanders are a very courageous side, to come back like that to win in Bloemfontein, even though they had a bit of luck, shows they’re a quality side,” he admits.
“To travel all the way to South Africa from New Zealand to win their first game up takes a good effort, it shows what a quality, tight-knit unit they are.
“Their coach Jamie Joseph is a good friend of mine, we coached together at Wellington, I know how he handles a team and you can see his influence there.
“One based on team culture, tightness, playing for each other, it’s pretty similar to the Chiefs in many ways.”
And what of the Sharks?
“We want to play well every week and improve every week. It’s not just about relying on winning at home.
“We have a job to do - home and away - if we want to be where we aim for. Playing a quarter-final in New Zealand is no fun. We have to set our sights higher than that.
“Making the play-offs in this competition is a good effort because it’s such a tough competition, but we want to talk about going further than that.”