THE next fortnight will be crucial to the ultimate outcome of the Sharks’ 2011 Super 15 campaign reckons coach John Plumtree of his team’s matches this week at home to the Stormers and away next week to the Lions.

The much-travelled Sharks will then enjoy their bye week and will take stock of what have they achieved, where they are on the various logs and the condition of the troops after what will have been eight battles on consecutive weekends.

The Sharks return from their Twickenham showdown with the Crusaders with mixed feelings. Their four-match overseas tour yielded 12 points from a possible 20, which is actually pretty good considering the general record of SA teams abroad, but Plumtree says a vital juncture has now been reached with the home game against the table-topping Capetonians and then the visit to the cellar dweller Lions which, with respect to his old mate John Mitchell, is a game the Sharks really ought to win.

“It is a big two weeks for us going into the bye, make no mistake,” Plumtree said shortly after returning from London yesterday. “It is very important that we finish this stage of the campaign on a high, with confidence in what we are doing. If we want to be any good in the second half of the competition, how we play in the next two weeks is extremely important.

“To be honest, this travel all over the world has been bleak (four countries in four weeks) and we now need to get everybody fit, brush up on the obvious areas of our game that are taking strain and move our performance up a level.”

Against the Crusaders, the set scrums were a disaster, the line-outs creaked at times, the restarts were occasionally clumsy and the midfield defence was shown up.

Regarding the scrums, Plumtree forthrightly said: “There are no excuses. Jannie, Bismarck (the du Plessis brothers) and John Smit are disappointed in their performances, but it is not just the front row, the whole pack contributes to the scrumming. It is a big wake-up call for all of them.”

On the injury front, there is a big worry regarding the calf injury sustained by flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter, who in turn was standing in for injured Patrick Lambie (finger).

“We are holding thumbs that Jacques-Louis will respond to treatment and be okay for the Stormers,” Pumtree said.

If he does not make it, Meyer Bosman will move from 12 to 10 (as he did in the Crusaders game).

Plumtree said that the overall mood in his squad following the 44-28 defeat to the Crusaders was buoyant.

“At half time the question put to the boys was this: ‘Are they that good or are we that bad?’ The guys said that as well as the Crusaders were playing, they had personally not been up to scratch, and that come what may over the next 40, they would give a proud account of themselves,” Plumtree explained.

“They did, and there have been many positive reflections on the game, but it is nevertheless a concern that we knew before the game that we would have to play above ourselves for the whole 80 minutes and then didn’t in the first 40,”Plumtree said.

The Sharks were the first South African team the Crusaders encountered this year and Plumtree had this warning for the Sharks’ countrymen.

“They have been building for a few years and are now the benchmark of the competition. Their set pieces are outstanding; if they turn over possession they make you work very hard to get it back and, of course, they have game-breakers everywhere.”

by Mike Greenaway