Sharks target Challenge Cup glory to rescue season

VETERAN Sharks lock Eben Etzebeth feels it will be a ‘massive disappointment’ if they don’t win the Challenge Cup. | Shutterstock

VETERAN Sharks lock Eben Etzebeth feels it will be a ‘massive disappointment’ if they don’t win the Challenge Cup. | Shutterstock

Published Apr 12, 2024


THE Sharks believe they can still make a success of their rugby season if they win the European Challenge Cup and gain automatic qualification for the Champions Cup.

But they will have to keep winning in the tournament, and a tough assignment awaits at Kings Park in Durban tomorrow as they take on Edinburgh in the quarter-final (kick-off 1.30pm).

A win will see them break new ground as the first South African side to reach the final four in European knockout competitions, and it will take them one step closer to silverware in an otherwise tough season.

Sharks lock Eben Etzebeth, who will make his return after a short injury absence, said yesterday there is still belief within the team that they can salvage pride by winning a trophy.

They have had a torrid time in the United Rugby Championship (URC) and can only qualify for next season’s Champions Cup by going all the way in the Challenge Cup.

“If anyone had told us at the start of the season that we could still win a trophy and that in Europe, I don’t think a lot of people would’ve taken note,” the towering lock said yesterday, at an event by their team sponsor HollywoodBets in Durban.

“But now we are three games away from winning it. Not discrediting our opposition, there are seven other great teams left in the competition. We are going to have to work hard to win the final.

“We have Edinburgh this weekend (tomorrow), which will be a massive challenge.

“If we don’t win, it will obviously be a massive disappointment of not performing in the URC, not going all the way (in the Challenge Cup) and not qualifying for Champions Cup rugby.”

The Sharks lit up Kings Park last weekend when they thumped Zebre 47-3 and head coach John Plumtree will want to see his side put in another performance like that.

Edinburgh were in Durban a couple of weekends ago in the URC and the home side won 23-13, but they can expect much stiffer competition from the Scots this time around.

Although the Sharks finished among the top sides in the Challenge Cup, should they progress tomorrow, the rest of their matches will be played away from home.

South African sides can not yet host semis and finals in the two European knockout tournaments, which means Plumtree’s men will be playing in front of their supporters for the final time.

That comes with the added pressure to perform, but Etzebeth believes they have the grit to withstand it.

“We’ve played (and won) a couple of World Cups so we know how to handle the pressure. It is on us senior guys to keep the rest calm and not change too much in what has been working (for us). The basics will be key.

“We have some superb younger guys who I think have Springbok potential.”