Sharks combat travel factor with Sydney stop

LONG HAUL AHEAD: JP Pietersen celebrates with teammates after scoring a try against the Stormers.
LONG HAUL AHEAD: JP Pietersen celebrates with teammates after scoring a try against the Stormers.

The Sharks plan to beat the massive travel factor for Saturday night's Super Rugby final against the Chiefs in Hamilton by staying in Sydney until Thursday.

Having had to go from Brisbane to Cape Town and now all the way back to New Zealand to try to win their first title, the Sharks are looking at ways to minimise the disruption of their arduous flights.

There's also undoubtedly the ploy of trying to avoid the hype that will swamp Hamilton this week, with the Chiefs also seeking their first title they are also firm favourites after the dice fell their way for hosting rights.

Having beaten the Crusaders 20-17 on Friday night the Chiefs were ready to get on a plane to Cape Town. But they had the delight of seeing the Sharks upset the Stormers 26-19 overnight to hand Waikato Stadium its biggest match in Super Rugby history.

The Sharks' Kiwi coach John Plumtree knows the travel challenges but backs his players to continue their four-match winning streak.

"It would be amazing ... flying there, flying back here, than back again. Nobody's ever done it. Who can do it? If we don't do this, someone will eventually. If we can get up physically for this game, anything can happen," Plumtree said after his side had seen off the Stormers.

 "I know personally the jet lag when travelling there is terrible; I have to take sleeping tablets most nights for a week.

"But the players are younger and they get over it quicker; it's not ideal but we will try to prepare smartly and get these boys back up:
we're representing South Africa now.

"We just want to get them in beds as quickly as possible in Sydney and also do some preparation there, try to get some freshness back before going to New Zealand.

Stormers captain Jean De Villiers said the Sharks couldn't be discounted despite the travel burden.

"The Sharks are on a real roll, on a mission ... if there's a team you won't bet against now it's them," De Villiers said.

"It will be a fantastic victory for them if they can go on and win it. They've shown that they can overcome the travelling.

"It's going to be tough to do it but the whole of South Africa should get behind them. They've got a great chance."

Plumtree said his side had momentum and that was a big factor heading into the final, no matter the circumstances. They had used the June break for the test season cleverly to rekindle their campaign.

"We gathered confidence and grew a bit at the same time ... it snowballed," Plumtree said.

"The team started believing in themselves about 20 to 30 per cent more than when we were playing before the international break.

"We were already playing knockout rugby, basically, several weeks ago so it hardened us, and the leadership grew with that.

"To go to Queensland and win last week and then come here (Cape Town) to do it again was always going to be a huge task for any side - I'm really proud of how the boys have stood up.

"You could see the guys getting tired towards the end here, and the subs had a crucial role to play.

"It's great to be giving a winning speech (after the semi) but we have also had some pain getting here, to this point."

Plumtree said the current squad were the best under his tenure in Durban.

"I just think this team is getting more balanced all the time. Over the past couple of years we've gone through times where we haven't had a 10, or haven't had a midfield, or struggled for depth in certain areas - we're starting to get that right now even if there are one or two positions still to tinker with.

"I'm more excited about the backs ... you look at (Francois) Steyn, Jordaan, (Tim) Whitehead; depth there now. And I still think Pat Lambie is a 10, so we'll work hard on him when Freddie (Michalak) leaves.

"The backs are there, and the pack's pretty good. I'm more excited about this team than I ever have been, I reckon."

Fairfax Media