Sharks second-stringers audition for final bench spots

DIEGO Appollis of the Sharks, here during his time at the Pumas, gets a chance to impress coach John Plumtree against Cardiff. BackpagePix

DIEGO Appollis of the Sharks, here during his time at the Pumas, gets a chance to impress coach John Plumtree against Cardiff. BackpagePix

Published May 18, 2024


Mike Greenaway

IT is a makeshift Sharks team that will host Cardiff in a United Rugby Championship match at Hollywoodbets Kings Park today as all the energy and focus shifts to next Friday’s European Challenge Cup final against Gloucester in London.

Well, not quite all the focus because coach John Plumtree says a handful of today’s team are playing for bench spots in the final.

He is sending his 20 best players to London this evening to begin preparations and a second contingent of players will fly tomorrow.

“We will take 28 players in total, so in all likelihood there are three players that I’m looking at for bench spots,” Plumtree explained.

“The initial 20 have a great chance of starting. Then we are looking for another five players to help prepare the team over there as extra numbers.

“So there is an opportunity there. Everyone wants to be involved in a final, so I’m sure the boys will go full out.”

Today’s team is virtually brand new. There are 14 changes to the starting line-up from last week’s game against Benetton and the newcomers are fringe players with everything to prove.

The problem is that they haven’t played together as a team, but Plumtree says there is enough experience in the side for them to be competitive.

“(Former Springbok) Sikhumbuzo Notshe is playing his 50th game, which is fantastic for him. The boys will want to get around him and play well for him. There are players in that group who will be playing their last games for the Sharks. So there is motivation.

“A lot of these guys help the team prepare every week. There aren’t enough opportunities for them, so a lot of them turn up week in and week out and help the team prepare on and off the field. It’s a nice opportunity for them to get this URC game.”

Plumtree admitted that he is “worried” about his midfield options for the final. Lukhanyo Am is injured, Ethan Hooker is trying to get over an injury, and Murray Koster has been suspended for five games.

That leaves Francois Venter as his only fit centre.

Plumtree is hoping that today’s midfield of young Diego Appolis and (wing) Eduan Keyter can give him food for thought.

“We have Eduan at centre because of the crisis in the position. He has played in the midfield before and fullback, so we want to see what he can do at 12,” Plumtree said.

“He’s a strong boy and it will be interesting to see if he can potentially play in that position in the future.

“Diego didn’t play too badly against Benetton. I’m interested to see how he goes,” Plumtree said of the 23-year-old who made a name for himself for the Pumas in the Currie Cup.

Plumtree added that veteran Curwin Bosch will get time off the bench today to prove his fitness for the final.

“Because of all the injuries, the busiest people this week have been the medical team,” Plumtree added.

“We have been plugging away at a long list. The issue is that we have flights to catch, so the medical team has been flat out. I have to commend them, they have worked round the clock to try to get everyone fit.

“All those injured midfielders are working hard, but it will only be next week when we can confirm who is starting.

“If Diego and Eduan put in good performances tomorrow, that will be a nice bonus for us. We think both players have a future in this jersey. It’s Diego’s specialist position, but he hasn’t had a lot of time this year. There is competition in that position when we are fit.

“It might be a guy like that whose time it is to shine in the jersey in this late part of the season. We will see how he goes tomorrow.”

Sharks XV: 15 Boeta Chamberlain, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Diego Appollis, 12 Eduan Keyter, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Tiaan Fourie, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Simon Miller, 6 Tino Mavesere, 5 Reniel Hugo (capt), 4 Corne Rahl, 3 Khwezi Mona, 2 Dylan Richardson, 1 Dian Bleuler

Bench: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Braam Reyneke, 18 IG Prinsloo, 19 Thomas Dyer, 20 Nick Hatton, 21 Bradley Davids, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Anthony Volmink