The Sharks departed Johannesburg last night quite literally on a wing and prayer

The Sharks departed Johannesburg last night quite literally on a wing and prayer given that Sydney airport was closed yesterday morning because of volcanic ash in the atmosphere, although the weather forecast from New South Wales was favourable for clear skies by the time the team is due to land today – otherwise the flight will be diverted to Brisbane and another plan will have to be made to get them to Nelson for Saturday’s Super Rugby play-off against the Crusaders.

Ordinarily the Sharks would have left for a knock-out game as soon as possible, ie on the Saturday night of their victory against the Bulls at the weekend, or the next day, but they this time they are trying something different by leaving late.

One of the reasons is that fitness tests could be conducted on suspect players in Durban rather than overseas and changes made accordingly; another is that there were not enough business class seats available over the weekend meaning the squad would have had to leave in two groups, which obviously would have resulted in a disjointed arrival; thirdly invaluable training sessions with the Crusaders specifically in mind were held yesterday and on Monday free of the jet lag that would have beset the team had they been conducted in New Zealand.

Finally, the Sharks have adopted a plan to beat the jet lag that was pioneered by the Bulls and later used by the Springboks.

“We will stay on South African time for the duration of our visit,” coach John Plumtree said yesterday at a departure press conference at the Shark Tank. “For a farm boy like me it is a very foreign thing but maybe the players will be more used to going to bed at 2am and getting up at noon!”

The problem with this particular plan is that it works well for what remains of the first week, but experience shows that the tourists come a cropper in the second week on tour when the jet lag catches up with a double whammy. Of course, for the Sharks there will only be a second week if they beat the Crusaders to advance to a semi-final in Brisbane against the Reds.

In 2009, the Springboks used this plan and were brilliant in thumping the Wallabies in Perth but then sleep-walked through the next week’s match in Brisbane and were soundly beaten – the only match they lost that year in the Tri-Nations. The Sharks, though, are clearly thinking only of what will give them the best chance of beating the seven-time champions on Saturday, and fair enough.

An immediate upside to leaving late was that the Sharks gained clarity on the fitness of certain players. Steven Sykes failed a fitness test on his ankle while Odwa Ndungane was passed fit after a hand injury. The 24-man squad that left last night was the match 22 that played against the Bulls minus substitute flank Marcell Coetzee, who is replaced by veteran Jacques Botes, plus Ndungane and prop Eugene van Staden.

“Sykes would have been handy in New Zealand given the expected conditions – rain and cold is predicted for the match – but then Alistair Hargreaves and Gerhard Mostert had big games at Loftus,” Plumtree said.

The Taranaki-raised Plumtree described Nelson as a popular summer venue for tourists but was notoriously miserable in winter.

“Only the rich and famous can afford property in what is essentially a Kiwi equivalent of – in KZN terms – Umhlanga Rocks. It is a really nice seaside town but it would be better if we were playing there in February or March, when it is very pleasant!” Plumtree said.

“Having said that, I am a lot happier at this stage of the season that we have the game for inclement conditions in New Zealand,” he said. “Our forward pack is suited to competing in the wet and freezing mud, while at the back (flyhalf) Frederic Michalak knows those conditions well from France and knows how to control the game in that situation, while at fullback Patrick Lambie has an excellent kicking game.”

by Mike Greenaway

About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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