Sharks at full strength with Etzebeth, Koch set for season debut

Vincent Koch could make his debut for the Sharks in the URC this weekend. | BackpagePix

Vincent Koch could make his debut for the Sharks in the URC this weekend. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 20, 2024


Mike Greenaway

THE news that World Cup Boks Eben Etzebeth and Vincent Koch will play their first game of the season on Saturday against Ulster will be sweet music to the ears of suffering Sharks supporters and the pair could provide the catalyst to turn the team around.

Coach John Plumtree has long bemoaned his inability to put his best forward pack on the field but this weekend the team from Belfast will face the strongest Sharks team so far this year.

Vincent Koch could make his debut for the Sharks in the URC this weekend. | BackpagePix

Etzebeth did media conference duty for the Sharks yesterday and his presence was a statement of intent from a Durban team that is sick of losing. Etzebeth certainly made it clear that he won’t be mucking about on Saturday.

“It has not been a good season for us and to be honest, there are no excuses for that,” said Etzebeth.

“We need to take a hard look at ourselves, both as individuals and as a collective. We have had plans in place but we just haven’t been executing them well enough.

“We will be looking to rectify that for the remainder of the season so we can start next season feeling more confident.”

The Sharks will have their full contingent of Boks available and that means Etzebeth and Koch will be joining Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche and Ntuthuko Mchunu.

“It is the first time this season most of our top players are playing and it will certainly be the first time Vincent plays for the Sharks,” said Etzebeth, who last week was unveiled as the SA Rugby Player of the Year award winner, as he was last year.

“Bongi was back against the Stormers, but this is the first time we will all be playing and collectively it is the strongest 23 we have fielded in 2024. But while it will be a boost to have everyone back, it is easy to talk about it. It is what happens on the field that counts.”

Etzebeth has been missing in action because of national resting protocols and also because he needed maintenance work done on a long-term knee problem.

“I had been struggling with the knee for a while, from before the World Cup. It was the perfect time for me to have the operation with the break that it entailed, as it meant that while I was out for seven weeks, I only missed two derby matches (against the Stormers and Lions).

“I initially wanted to do it straight after the World Cup but the timing wasn’t good as at the time we had two Boks out.

“It already feels better than it was before the operation, so that is a big positive for me,” Etzebeth added in good news for the Springboks as well as the Sharks.

Bongi Mbonambi of the Sharks. | BackpagePix

Etzebeth admitted that while the URC is a lost cause for the Sharks, it is imperative that they use the remaining games to tune up for the Challenge Cup, a competition the Sharks could very well win.

“In the URC we will target home games, and obviously the Challenge Cup is now something we are targeting as it will mean we can get into the Champions Cup if we win it, and it will also bring us some silverware.

“Unfortunately, trying to qualify by making the top eight in the URC is no longer possible, which is disappointing if you consider how early in the season it still is.

“But there is always pride in the jersey and a lot to play for in that regard. We want to make it difficult for guys to come to Durban.

“We need to get a few good away wins, too. We want to get to a point where the other teams won’t want to be playing against us.”