Sharks dive deep as Masotti predicts 18 months to change fortunes

John Plumtree, coach of Hollywoodbets Sharks during the United Rugby Championship 2023/24 game between the Sharks and Stormers at Kings Park Stadium on 17 February 2023. ©Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix

John Plumtree, coach of Hollywoodbets Sharks during the United Rugby Championship 2023/24 game between the Sharks and Stormers at Kings Park Stadium on 17 February 2023. ©Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix

Published Mar 16, 2024


THE winds of change are rustling through the Shark Tank as shocked fans and investors alike react to the team’s dire performance in the United Rugby Championship.

If there was an award for under-performance it would go to the Sharks and rock bottom was reached in the team’s last match where a Lions team with a quarter of the budget than the Sharks enjoy, put 40 points past the Durbanites.

This further entrenched the Sharks at the bottom of the 16-team log with just one win and 10 losses. The words on many a fan’s lips have been “What’s wrong with the Sharks?”

How can a team backed by the dollars of their American owners and with so many quality players perform so abominably?

Marco Masotti, the head of New York-based MVM Holdings, and de facto owner of the Sharks, says a “deep dive” is being conducted into all facets of the union to find out exactly what the problems are and how to fix them.

In the meantime, substantial money has been thrown at bolstering player resources while some players in the system are being shown the door.

Over the last week, the Sharks have confirmed the signings of World Cup winners Andre Esterhuizen (from Harlequins in London), Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92, France) and former Springbok Jason Jenkins (Leinster, Ireland).

Last week, the Sharks announced that the up-and-coming Lions pair of Jordan Hendrikse and Emmanuel Tshituka would be joining their older brothers, Jaden and Vincent, in Durban.

Players recently cut from the squad include Blitzboks legend Werner Kok, locks Hyron Andrews, and Le Roux Roets while long-standing flyhalf Curwin Bosch is understood to be bound for French club Montpellier.

The incoming signings join a raft of current Springboks in Vincent Koch, Ox Nché, Bongi Mbonambi, Eben Etzebeth, Jaden Hendrikse, Grant Williams, Lukhanyo Am, and Makazole Mapimpi, so there is no shortage of talent.

This was confirmed by Masotti in an interview.

“We’ve got good players and good coaches yet we’re underperforming. The question is what is the problem, how do we look at it and how do we address it?” he said.

Masotti said there have been mitigating factors for the bad start to the season.

“We were missing players due to the World Cup and then they had to be rested, two of our key players (Mbonambi and Koch) came back injured, we’ve had injuries plague the squad, we have had brand new coaches across the board, we still have habits from the old coaching system in the group, so the reality is we started the season way behind.”

The biggest problem at the Sharks over the last five years or so has been random recruiting and often the recruitment has been less aligned with the head coach than it is at the Stormers and Bulls where John Dobson and Jake White, respectively, have the final say in who comes and goes.

“Some of the issues have been the consequence of leadership in the organisation, judgment calls that were made, diligence issues in the recruiting process … these things don’t happen overnight, and they’re not fixed overnight,” Masotti said.

“We’re trying to bring best practice to the Sharks now, we weren’t as planned and were a little bit more ad hoc in some of the recruiting we were doing. But we have also recruited some wonderful players.

“Recruitment of players and the retention of good players are opposite sides of the same coin.

WITH like Grant Williams, there is no shortage of talent at the Sharks as they predict 18 months to change fortunes. | Shutterstock

“It’s not just recruiting, it’s also keeping them. (Springbok flyhalf) Manie Libbok was here, Evan Roos was here, Ruben van Heerden, Mpilo Gumede, Sanele Nohamba … ”

The above are all former Sharks players who are playing great rugby at the Stormers, Bulls, and Lions.

A beacon of hope for the Sharks is that they have a great former Springbok in JP Pietersen now in charge of the Sharks Academy and director of rugby Neil Powell has said recruiting talent to the Academy has become a major focus.

It has to be because unlike the Stomers and the Bulls, the Sharks don’t have quality Varsity Cup teams in their region.

“I believe in John Plumtree and Neil Powell because they have a very clear three-year plan,” Masotti said. “I think the combination of them can be very powerful for the franchise. I know the fans are impatient – I’m impatient – but it’s going to take a little bit of time.

“Let’s see where we are in 18 months.”