Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree has a place in his heart for the Sharks as the two best teams yet to win a Super Rugby title get set to square off.
The top-qualifying Hurricanes host the eighth-seeded Sharks in a quarter-final on Saturday, with one team set to extend a lengthy run of dead-end appearances in the knockout phase.
Nobody has a more frustrating record than the Durban-based visitors, who have qualified for the play-offs nine times but never won a title. Their record includes four losses in the final.
The Hurricanes aren’t much better, with seven failed play-off visits, which includes last year’s loss to the Highlanders on home soil in the decider.
That result continued a soul-destroying record for Plumtree, whose five seasons in charge at the Sharks featured three post-season appearances.
It ended with a final loss to the Chiefs in 2012, having been forced into an exhausting campaign which featured wins in Brisbane and Cape Town followed by defeat in Hamilton.
It is that very series which has Plumtree on edge, along with a worrying Sharks history of success on New Zealand soil.
“This team’s not scared of travelling. They’ve got a lot of massive characters in that team and they know how to win in New Zealand,” Plumtree said.
“Them coming to us, it won’t be a problem for them.”
Plumtree says he “feels all the pain” of Sharks supporters over their poor play-off record and suggests they are stinging at least as much as the Hurricanes – the only Kiwi team still to claim the title.
The Sharks dominated up front in a 32-15 win when the teams met in Durban in May, with the Hurricanes’ sub-standard efforts that day forming a big part of their buildup.
“We pretty much got man-handled. They slowed down our ball and we can’t afford that type of thing to happen,” he said.
BEST OF THE 10 TITLE-LESS SUPER RUGBY TEAMS
9 play-off appearances – Sharks (4 times in final)
7 – Hurricanes (2)
6 – Stormers (1)
2 – Lions (0)
1 – Cheetahs (0)
0 – Force, Rebels, Kings, Jaguares, Sunwolves.