Plumtree demands different skills set from Fassi & Co

APHELELE Fassi and his Sharks teammates will have to display a different set of skills against Zebre this afternoon. BackpagePix

APHELELE Fassi and his Sharks teammates will have to display a different set of skills against Zebre this afternoon. BackpagePix

Published Apr 6, 2024


APHELELE Fassi has enjoyed a week of applause after his sensational game against Edinburgh, but he will have to show a different set of skills to steer the Sharks to victory over Zebre tomorrow.

Fullback Fassi carved the Edinburgh defence to shreds with his deadly counter-attacks, but the rain forecast for tomorrow will dampen his attacking ardour, and his coach John Plumtree says Fassi will have to keep the ship steady at the back.

Plumtree said his team had hoped to crack on with their attack in this Challenge Cup last-16 match at Hollywoodbets Kings Park (4pm kick-off) but conditions will demand a different strategy.

“Looking at the conditions, there is rain around which will be a leveler,” he said.

“There will be a lot of scrums and line-outs and plenty of kicking, so it is how we handle all of those moments, and our fullback will have a major role to play.

“Fassi’s big left boot is going to be important and he will have to do a lot of catching out of the air, and there will be kicks going behind him that he will have to chase and dive on.

“He is going to have to display a different set of skills this time,” Plumtree continued.

“Fassi is a confidence player and when he is hot, which is the case right now, he is a real threat.

“I love seeing him in this space. He could be an outstanding fullback going forward for South African rugby. He has to keep doing the little things in his preparation during the week to allow his game to be at the required consistency.”

The match against Zebre is of critical importance to the Sharks because the Challenge Cup is their opportunity to rescue a calamitous season.

The United Rugby Championship has been a disaster and with only a few rounds to go, the Sharks are in 14th place, with a spot in the play-offs (the top eight) a bridge too far.

But the Challenge Cup is very much on for the Sharks. If they beat Zebre, they host a quarter-final in Durban next weekend, and if they advance, they will play the semi-final on the neutral ground of The Stoop in London.

But first they must get past the Italian team that beat them in the URC a few months back.

Plumtree says it won’t be as easy as people think.

“They are a side that has beaten us; we know what is coming and what we need to do to win. It is a case of building up the excitement and getting stuck in.

“They will want to take us on up front and slow the game down. The side that can gain the most territory in the wet and then apply pressure will be the side best positioned to win.”

Plumtree says the importance of getting past Zebre cannot be overstated.

“When we came back from the break and had the Springboks back, we set ourselves the goal of four wins in four weeks and we have two of them (Ulster and Edinburgh),” the coach said.

“Our fans are enjoying what we are doing, which is important to us, and now we have the opportunity to host a quarter-final (by beating Zebre), but it is knockout rugby and that brings a different pressure.

“We are not going to make the URC play-offs and that is disappointing, so we had to reset our goals. The Challenge Cup is something we can do well in.

“I’m pleased with how the team has stuck together through hard times. The team is tight and excited about the way forward.”

Sharks starting XV: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am (capt), 12 Ethan Hooker, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 1 Ox Nche, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 3 Vincent Koch, 4 Corne Rahl, 5 Emile van Heerden, 6 James Venter, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi

Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Gerbrandt Grobler, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Francois Venter