Mindset changes have motivated Sharks, says Kok

WERNER Kok (left) and his Sharks teammates will be looking for similar celebrations against Clermont tomorrow. | Shutterstock

WERNER Kok (left) and his Sharks teammates will be looking for similar celebrations against Clermont tomorrow. | Shutterstock

Published May 3, 2024


NORTHERN Ireland’s Ulster rugby team is a curious common denominator when it comes to the Challenge Cup semi-final between the Sharks and Clermont Auvergne tomorrow in London.

The Belfast team lost to the Sharks on March 23 in a United Rugby Championship game in Durban to spark a revival for the home team, but Clermont beat the same team 53-14 in their Challenge Cup quarter-final a few weeks back.

It is not that Ulster are useless – they are in seventh place on the URC log and are likely to win a play-off spot, something the 13th-placed Sharks can only dream of.

The Sharks have given up on that one and put all their resources into winning the Challenge Cup, and earning a free passage into next season’s Champions Cup.

That spares them the dogfight of trying to get there via the top eight of the URC.

And they are looking good both on and off the field, according to winger Werner Kok.

“There have been a few mindset changes in the camp that turned it around and we also had a culture of change,” Kok said from London.

“Most people wouldn’t have seen it because it happened inside the camp, but there was quite a bit of change. Everyone is aligned towards one goal and that makes a massive difference.”

Sadly for Kok and his many Sharks fans, he is leaving at the start of the rebirth of the Sharks.

“The best is still to come for this team,” he said. “You can see things are falling in line at the moment. The Sharks are on the way to a proper place.

“If we can get past Clermont and win the final, that takes the Sharks into the Champions Cup next season and that will mean a lot to the guys.”

Especially considering where the Sharks have come from – it wasn’t long ago they were propping up the URC points ladder. They were the worst-performing side in the 16-team competition.

But Kok knows that beating a Clermont team packed with internationals from France, Argentina, Australia, Fiji and Tonga is easier said than done.

Clermont showed their class in smashing Ulster, and last week backed it up with a 41-18 defeat of French Top 14 leaders Stade Francais.

But Kok points out that the semi-final is on neutral ground and that counts for a lot considering how strong Clermont are on their home ground of Stade de Michelin.

“We want to make The Stoop a home from home,” he said. “There are thousands of South Africans in London and we would love them to be (in) Sharks colours (tomorrow).”

Kok played a blinder in the Sharks’ defeat of the Scarlets last week, causing some serious blushes for the authorities at The Tank who decided against a contract renewal for the former Blitzbok superstar.

Kok was quite a sight – dashing in for a hat-trick of tries, his tousled locks in full flow – and little wonder Sharks fans are cursing his imminent move to Ulster.

But Kok has one or possibly two games left in Sharks colours and the consummate team man that he is, he is determined to help the Sharks win the Challenge Cup. He says he wants one more cup, and if the Sharks can beat Clermont on Saturday in London, they will become the first South African team to play in the final of a European competition.

Kok has a mantelpiece groaning with trophies from his glory days in the golden era of the Blitzboks. He was the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year in 2015, and in 2017, he won a Currie Cup with Western Province when they beat the Sharks in the final.

“I’m extremely motivated to finish at the Sharks on a high,” the 31-year-old said. “If we could win the Challenge Cup, it would mean the world to me.”