Sharks on a mission to win back support

HOLLYWOODBETS Sharks lock Gerbrandt Grobler will don the number seven jumper against Benetton this afternoon at Kings Park. | Shutterstock

HOLLYWOODBETS Sharks lock Gerbrandt Grobler will don the number seven jumper against Benetton this afternoon at Kings Park. | Shutterstock

Published May 11, 2024


THE Sharks have indicated they will keep the throttle wide open between now and the Challenge Cup final by picking a full-strength team for this afternoon’s United Rugby Championship (URC) match against Benetton.

Coach John Plumtree is keeping his foot on the gas to give the side maximum momentum into the May 24 showdown with Gloucester.

Many had felt Plumtree would rest up a few of his senior citizens but the likes of Eben Etzebeth and Bongi Mbonambi will be in the vanguard of the forward effort today.

The Sharks’ interest in the URC is academic but they have set themselves the goal of winning their remaining three games, all at home, with Cardiff visiting next week and the season closes with the Bulls visiting The Tank on June 1.

“It is important for us to retain momentum. We have built up continuity and a lot of confidence in winning six of the last seven games,” said Plumtree. “We feel we are building nicely and we have an opportunity to win silverware.

“There is a massive amount of planning behind the scenes, around travel and accommodation and stuff like that, but it is important to focus on the next job, and that is this game against Benetton,” the coach continued. “It is crucial for us to go well because we feel like we are winning some support back after a disappointing showing in the big part of the season.”

The Italians are coming to Durban on a mission. They are in the tenuous eighth spot on the URC log and they need points from their matches in South Africa (they play the Bulls next week) to keep in the hunt for a quarter-final spot.

“Benetton will test the areas that need testing,” Plumtree said. “I wasn’t happy with the forward performance in particular against Clermont (in the Cup semi-final) last week. The Benetton set piece is functioning well, and we weren’t good there last week and need to improve. They also don’t kick out much so we will be able to work on our counter-attack game and also rebuilding attack from kick receipt.

“They have several Italy internationals in their team and like to attack, so they should give our defence a good workout. They want to beat us because they want to progress up the URC log.”

There is one ace that Plumtree has pulled out of his selection sleeve for this game.

The injury to flank Phepsi Buthelezi has prompted Plumtree to take a chance on Gerbrandt Grobler at blindside flank.

Grobler is a lock but Plumtree feels he could make the transition to loose forward in the same fashion as Springbok Pieter-Steph du Toit.

“He has been a nice surprise for me with his ability to win the ball, particularly from kick-off. He is one of the best receivers, he has great hands and enjoys attack, I think he has a nice skill set for flank,” said Plumtree.

“He is mobile and ticks several boxes for a good number seven. Defence will be a test as that is a big part of a blindside flank’s role. We will see how it goes. We do have Phepsi coming back and Lappies Labuschagne, who is more used to the number seven role, is on the bench for this game.

“We just want to see if Gerbrandt playing there can add a different flavour to our team. It certainly makes our lineout stronger by giving us more options. That is a positive aspect around that selection.”

Centre Ethan Hooker injured his ankle in the Challenge Cup semi-final and Plumtree said he is “touch and go” for the final.

Lock Emile van Heerden is also injured and Plumtree says it is unlikely he will be ready for Gloucester.

“Fortunately we have good backup at lock. We also have Curwin Bosch recovering well from his shoulder injury and we expect him back next week against Cardiff.”

Sharks XV: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Francois Venter, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Vincent Tshituka, 7 Gerbrandt Grobler, 6 James Venter, 5 Corne Rahl, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.

Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Lappies Labuschagne, 20 Tino Mavesere, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Boeta Chamberlain, 23 Diego Appolis.