Sharks look for rare back-to-back URC victories

JOHN Plumtree’s Springbok Sharks Bongi Mbonambi and Eben Etzebeth are to lead the Ferrari mechanical exercise at Kings Park. | Shutterstock

JOHN Plumtree’s Springbok Sharks Bongi Mbonambi and Eben Etzebeth are to lead the Ferrari mechanical exercise at Kings Park. | Shutterstock

Published Mar 30, 2024


JOHN Smit’s description of the Sharks as a broken Ferrari has drawn a clever retort from Sharks owner Marco Masotti, who says at least his team is not an old Corolla.

Former Sharks and Springbok captain Smit told reporters he is pained by the team’s disastrous United Rugby Championship season that has them currently in 14th position.

He said: “They have a magnificent-looking team. It’s like walking through a parking lot and seeing a Ferrari, but as you peer through the window, it has no gearbox. That’s the reality.”

That comment went viral on social media before New York-based Masotti retorted on Twitter: “I’m grateful for the comparison to a Ferrari. A Ferrari is always a Ferrari. A gearbox will eventually be fixed. Thankfully we are not an old Toyota Corolla from the past.”

Touche, Mr Masotti, but Smit does have a point.

Smit continued: “Why are they where they are? It used to be my problem for three years when I was CEO there. It’s such a complicated and loaded question.

“We have a coach in Plum who has come back. He knows the culture of old. He understood what the Sharks were about, pre-equity deal. He’s had little ability to pick players or management, so it’s difficult to blame him. He has inherited everything that he’s got.

“Bottom of the log with that squad does beg for answers that all of us desperately want and I wish I had them. That’s a big part of my life and the Sharks badge is ingrained into my soul.

“To watch them struggle is difficult. You could ask me, Plum, (CEO) Ed Coetzee, anyone, I’m not sure they would have an understanding of how you can be so far behind with such an unbelievable group of players.

“The only way to address it is to accept that this URC campaign has been an absolute disaster. We have some great players coming in next season. Plum will have a full year of understanding what he’s got, who he’s going to let go, who he’s adding, and will hope there’s some kind of realignment next year.

“The win over the weekend (against Ulster) was magic. So hopefully the corner has been turned.”

That brings us to today’s visit by Edinburgh, at 3pm. It is opportunity for a full-strength Sharks side to click as a unit before hosting Zebre Parma next week in the Challenge Cup. This is the knock-out tournament that the Sharks are heavily targeting.

“I’ve always said that the Ulster and Edinburgh games are about us getting cohesion and creating some competition and then picking a side against Zebre that can do a job,” Plumtree said.

“We know how tough this weekend’s game is going to be, there’s a lot of Scottish internationals coming back in – a lot of X-factor players who are household names (such as Duhan van der Merwe).

“It’s going to be a real test for us building up to the Zebre game, but that’s exactly what we want.

“We have prepared well and are excited about playing Edinburgh, but we’re possibly out of the URC and are still alive in the Challenge Cup.

“We’ve set some goals for the rest of the season and we’re excited because we’ve got the team back that we want – it’s the first time I’ve been able to pick a full-strength side.

“I want to do well in the Challenge Cup and this weekend will help me prepare the team for that. Now I have some selection headaches if players take their opportunity and that’s how we create an edge in our team.”

Ox Nche and Vincent Koch will start with Bongi Mbonambi in a World Cup-winning Springbok front row, while Werner Kok and Francois Venter slot in at right wing and inside centre, respectively.

“Eduan Keyter has a bit of an ankle injury and we’re hoping it’s not too serious, but we’ve got Werner Kok coming back in. Nothing really changes with Werner coming in, he’s our real energy man.

“And bringing Swys Venter back into the midfield… we’re really impressed with what Ethan Hooker did last week with a Man of the Match performance.

“I’m looking to see him cover 13 as well in case we have issues with Lukhanyo Am.”

Team: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuka, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 James Venter, 6 Vincent Tshituka, 5 Emile van Heerden, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.

Replacements: Dan Jooste, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Hanro Jacobs, Corne Rahl, Jeandre Labuschagne, Cameron Wright, Curwin Bosch, Ethan Hooker.