Sharks can’t be ‘loose’ in running of the Bulls at Kings Park

SHARKS prop Ox Nche will have to take greater responsibility up front against the Bulls in the absence of Eben Etzebeth. Photo: BackpagePix

SHARKS prop Ox Nche will have to take greater responsibility up front against the Bulls in the absence of Eben Etzebeth. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Jun 1, 2024


THE Sharks end the most dramatic of seasons this afternoon at Kings Park (4.10pm kick-off), and the feeling is that they are hanging on for dear life as the curtain gets ready to fall.

Their opponents, the Bulls, are in a very different space, and they are on a mission to harvest five log points and finish the United Rugby Championship in pole position.

The Sharks literally played their final last week, and the word coach John Plumtree has used to describe the energy levels says it all.

“We’re knackered,” Plumtree said, and understandably so after spending four of the last six weeks overseas as they built up to the Challenge Cup final.

Also, the victory over Gloucester in London came at a physical cost.

Springboks Eben Etzebeth, Makazole Mapimpi and Grant Williams are out of contention this week.

That is a significant dent in the player reserves, especially at scrumhalf, where the Durban side are also missing Jaden Hendrikse.

“Grant Williams sustained a hamstring injury against Gloucester and has not recovered,” Plumtree said.

“Regarding Mapimpi, we sent him home to visit his family. He has played a lot of rugby. In the last seven or eight games, he played the full 80 minutes, so I thought it was a good opportunity for him to freshen up ahead of the international season.

“Eben has some back stiffness, and it has not been great with the travelling. He is just a little bit uncomfortable at the moment.

“Lukhanyo Am is still injured, and will be out for three to four weeks.”

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus will be pleased that Etzebeth has not been forced into action and can concentrate on the approaching international season.

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Otherwise, Plumtree has retained most of the squad that played in the final, with a powerful Test front row of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch ready to attack the Bulls scrum.

“It’s important for us to sign off on a positive note, but it has been a different week, and we have had some celebrations after what we achieved in London,” he said.

“The week has been compromised by that, but in the second half of the week we have worked hard and are ready to go.

“There is fatigue, but European rugby is brutal. I heard Leinster have rested 14 players from the (Champions Cup) final for their last league game,” Plumtree pointed out.

“From a squad perspective, we want to get to that.

“The reality is that in the northern hemisphere, you can potentially play two finals within a few weeks of each other. That is unique, and it doesn’t happen in the south.”

The Sharks have no choice but to lift themselves for one last effort.

“We have our challenges, but for the players, they become personal. Each player has his ‘why’ to play well in this game,” the coach explained.

“It might be a desire to impress the Springbok coach or to maintain a personal standard.”

Plumtree said that his team have to stick to what has recently worked for them rather than get too loose in this game.

“It won’t work for us to have an attitude of playing with freedom and abandon,” he said.

“We are playing one of the best teams in the URC, and they are hungry for five points.

“We have learned how to win a game of rugby. Yes, there are changes to the team, but the players know the game model better now and how we expect to play.

“We know we can’t kick poorly, given the danger of their back three (Boks Willie le Roux, Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse).

“If we are going to win, it will be through trusting our structures and not being loose.”

Sharks Team

15 Aphelele Fassi 14 Werner Kok 13 Ethan Hooker 12 Francois Venter (captain) 11 Eduan Keyter 10 Siya Masuku 9 Cameron Wright 8 Phepsi Buthelezi 7 Vincent Tshituka 6 James Venter 5 Gerbrandt Grobler 4 Corné Rahl 3 Vincent Koch 2 Bongi Mbonambi 1 Ox Nche.

Bench: 16 Fez Mbatha 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu 18 Khwezi Mona 19 Jeandré Labuschagne 20 Dylan Richardson 21 Bradley Davids 22 Boeta Chamberlain 23 Diego Appollis.