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Stormers are the benchmark says Plumtree

REACTION: Sharks head coach John Plumtree admitted his team are relatively short of where they need to be to challenge the Stormers.

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The Cape Town-based extended their winning streak over fellow South African opposition to 15 games with a 25-21 win against the Sharks in a United Rugby Championship Round 10 encounter in Durban on Saturday.

The Stormers were without their World Cup winners Manie Libbok, Damian Willemse and Deon Fourie due to mandatory rest protocol.

However, they managed to step up brilliantly with the likes of Sacha Feinburg-Mngomezulu and Warrick Gelant running the backline and Neetling Fouche, Evan Roos and Marcel Theunissen leading the physical battle up front.

While both teams scored three tries in an entertaining match, the Stormers were the better team in most areas.

The Sharks found their rhythm in the second half. Trailing 7-22  the hosts took a more direct approach, and tries by flank James Venter and Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi in the last quarter gave the more than 30,000 Kings Park crown something to celebrate.

“It was not the start we wanted,” Plumtree told reporters in the wake of the defeat in Durban.

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“We got back in the contest just 10 minutes before the break, and piled a little pressure on the Stormers, but a very average start.”

Finding the balance

The coach commended the Stormers for their performance despite having a couple of key players unavailable. He said it is a feat his team should aspire to.

“The Stormers, where they are right now as a team is where we want to be,” Plumtree said.

“They worked really hard defensively.

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“We created a couple of opportunities, but we didn’t finish them off.  They scrambled back and were able to stop us. That is sort of a testament to their group and that’s why they are where they are.

“It’s a tough outfit. I’m just happy we never gave up. We came back into the contest at the end. We didn’t execute that line-out which was a coach killer, but that’s the way it goes.”

Plumtree conceded that just like the Stormers his team should find a balance between the first and second-string players.

The Sharks have been battling with a long injury list, especially among the forwards, but the New Zealander hopes by April he will have his full-strength squad at his disposal, making it much easier to iron out all the current kinks.

“I just want us to get better and better and improve. It’s frustrating for me, because I haven’t had the opportunity to work with our full-strength pack, especially in these big derbies,” Plumtree said.

“Our boys tried real hard today [Saturday]. But there’s a difference between our first group and second group in what we’ve got. That’s a real challenge for us. We need to do well without our Springboks. We’ve had a lot of key players injured this year.

“If we can get more of them back, I reckon we will be a force. But we aren’t there yet. We will get there.

He added: “I have a lot of confidence in this team that we  will get it right.”

The defeat means the Sharks remain at the bottom of the URC table with 10 points.

Sharks have yet to record a win over fellow South African rivals. They are bottom of the South African Shield and face the tough challenge in the form of the Lions in Round 11 at Ellis Park on March 2.

The last time the two sides met, the Lions secured a 20-18  win over the Sharks in Durban.

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