Plumtree praises departing Kok for ‘total effort’

The Sharks, despite a powerful squad, finished 14th in the URC with a paltry four wins. BackpagePix

The Sharks, despite a powerful squad, finished 14th in the URC with a paltry four wins. BackpagePix

Published Jun 3, 2024


Mike Greenaway

The Sharks concluded their United Rugby Championship season with a 26-14 defeat to the Bulls in Durban and the entertaining match was a fitting farewell for departing wing Werner Kok.

The Blitzbok legend has been a fan favourite at the Sharks for the past three years but, unfathomably, he is leaving to join Ulster in Northern Ireland.

Kok said his farewell to the Shark Tank with an excellent performance that was notable for his handling of the box-kicks sent his way by the Bulls.

Vincent Tshituka of the Sharks is tackled by Harold Vorster of the Bulls. | BackpagePix

Sharks coach John Plumtree said Kok’s departure is a pity.

“Werner is an incredible player and we are sad to see him go,” Plumtree said. “It was his last game for us and he should be proud of his performance and of what he has consistently done for this team.

“He brings that total effort every week. We could have a ‘Werner Kok trophy for effort’ because he has provided something for his teammates to look up to.”

Plumtree said that the Sharks’ loss is Ulster’s gain.

“We are sorry to see him go. He gives 100% every week. He wants to travel at this point in his career but he could come back to us. Who knows?”

The Sharks will be relieved that they concluded their URC campaign with a bang and not a whimper.

Plumtree had said midweek that he was worried his team had little left in the tank after a telling week of travel and celebrations following their Challenge Cup triumph in London.

“I think everyone enjoyed the spectacle,” he said of a game that the Sharks could have won.

Werner Kok of the Sharks (with ball in hand) played his final game for the union on Saturday. | BackpagePix

The Bulls were desperate to get five log points but the bonus-point try only came late in the game as the Sharks gave the game a full go.

“I was hoping it would be a good encounter and I think it says a lot about how far we have come that right up until the end the boys were working hard around the park for each other,” Plumtree said. “I was happy with most of what we did.”

Plumtree said he will be heading back to New Zealand shortly and the flight will be far more enjoyable this time compared to two months ago when he took a mid-season sabbatical to return to Wellington to see his family.

At that point, the Sharks were stone last in the URC and skeptics wondered if Plumtree would return to Durban.

But the big Kiwi is made of far sterner stuff and he returned and turned the Sharks around.

“I have learned a lot,” he admitted. “The nice thing is that the coaching team has come together and has done a really good job, especially in the second half of the season.

“We have got used to working with each other. Also, I have good relationships with the players that are staying, they know me and what I stand for and that holds us in good stead for the future.”

Plumtree admitted that at the start of the URC season, he had his concerns.

“Right at the beginning, I asked for patience because I did not believe that the squad was good enough to be a force in the URC when we were going to be without our Springboks for long periods. I did not think we had the depth.”

Plumtree’s fears were well-founded and the Sharks suffered defeat after defeat.

“It was evident early on that we were going to struggle to make the top eight and we put all our eggs into the Challenge Cup basket,” he said. “That became the plan and I am proud of how we went about it and how the senior players led the charge.”

The defeat of Gloucester emphasised Plumtree’s successful work on the team’s culture and this was evident also in the Bulls game. The Sharks were fatigued yet started the game strongly and finished the game on the offence.

“We had a very short week of preparation and I am proud of how the boys fronted up against the Bulls,” Plumtree said.