Sharks Bok-laden as Plumtree rewards form

MAKAZOLE Mapimpi is among the Springboks starting for the Sharks this afternoon. | BackpagePix

MAKAZOLE Mapimpi is among the Springboks starting for the Sharks this afternoon. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 23, 2024


IT HAS been a long time coming but there was a glimmer of a smile from Sharks coach John Plumtree after he had announced the strongest Sharks team of the year for today’s United Rugby Championship match against Ulster at Hollywoodbets Kings Park (3pm).

Seven World Cup winners are packed into the match-23, including tighthead prop Vincent Koch, who will make his Sharks debut off the bench, while Bok bruiser Eben Etzebeth is in the second row in his first start of the year.

Captain Lukhanyo Am, scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse and wing Makazole Mapimpi return to join Bongi Mbonambi in the starting line-up, while Ox Nche is on the bench.

It is an interesting side that Plumtree has picked because alongside the Boks are a handful of youngsters who impressed in the losing cause that was the Sharks’ 40-10 defeat to the Lions.

The former Westville Boys High centre Ethan Hooker has been retained after a strong showing at Ellis Park and the former Free State No 8 George Cronje has another chance to state his case.

Importantly, Siya Masuku continues at flyhalf and it would seem that the game is just about up for Curwin Bosch, who warms the bench.

Eduan Keyter keeps his place on the right wing and, hopefully, he can put his injury problems behind him and show the form that made him almost unstoppable for Griquas.

“This is a team that I’ve wanted to select for a while,” Plumtree said. “We are getting our squad back. Guys are coming back from injury. We just want to get going with a good performance and next week (against Edinburgh) in the build-up to the Challenge Cup play-offs.”

The Challenge Cup has become hugely important for the Sharks. Not only is it a realistic shot at silverware but if they win it, they get an automatic passage to the lucrative Champions Cup.

“We’ve had a bit of a break and we’ve got players returning from Springbok resting. We’ve had the opportunity to reset some goals for the rest of the season,” Plumtree said.

“We’ve got three months of rugby left, but we see it as an exciting time for us. There are two home games coming up, hopefully, in the Challenge Cup and before that we’ve got two URC games, both against good teams.

“We are also looking to create some competition in the squad. There hasn’t been enough pressure on players for selection. That makes players comfortable and complacent. A full-strength Sharks team has competition for places and that’s what we want.”

Plumtree said that he will always reward form.

“I’ve been impressed with Ethan Hooker,” Plumtree said. “I want to give him more time to gain some confidence at this level.

“Look at Eduan Keyter on the wing, I thought he played well against the Lions. It grows our competition out wide. When Aphiwe (Dyantyi) comes back, he’s not available at the moment, and we have Werner Kok and Mapimps.

“Curwin and Siya will fight it out for the number 10 jersey. We will see how that battle goes. Curwin can play at fullback as well.

“This is the strongest Sharks team I have been able to pick for a while. The benefit of that for me, is the fact that we are going to be able to create competition.”

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Eduan Keyter, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Ethan Hooker, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 George Cronje, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Phepsi Buthelezi, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Hanro Jacobs, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu.

Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Corne Rahl, 20 Jeandre Labuschagne, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Francois Venter.