Plumtree: Senior Sharks took ownership in Ulster win

Loose forward Phepsi Buthelezi screams in delight after scoring the Sharks’ opening try against Ulster. Photo: BackpagePix

Loose forward Phepsi Buthelezi screams in delight after scoring the Sharks’ opening try against Ulster. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Mar 25, 2024


Sharks coach John Plumtree was only half-joking when he said the best thing about his team’s defeat of Ulster was not having to suffer a blue Monday for a change.

The 22-12 win ended a five-game losing streak for the Sharks, and has lifted them from 16th to 14th in the United Rugby Championship.

Loose forward Phepsi Buthelezi opened the scoring, with further tries by wing Eduan Keyter and hooker Bongi Mbonambi, with flyhalf Siya Masuku slotting two conversions and a penalty.

“We can come to training on Monday and it won’t be about picking up the pieces,” he said.

“For a change, we have positive work-ons, and we start the week of a big game against Edinburgh with a spring in our step.”

The Scottish team is coached by Sean Everitt, Plumtree’s predecessor at the Sharks, but there will be no welcome mat extended to Everitt on Saturday (3pm kick-off).

“We have four games in a row now and we have targeted winning them all, obviously. We have ticked the first box and now we have to get better against Edinburgh and every week thereafter,” Plumtree said.

“It was good to see the physicality of the team ... I asked the guys for a big effort. We know we’ve got a talented team if we can gel, especially with all the players available.

“I asked the senior guys to take ownership of the side and to lift those around them, and you could see that coming through.

“We saw aspects of our game that had been absent for some time, such as solid set pieces, and that allowed us to put pressure on Ulster,” the coach explained.

“When you don’t have your set piece as a weapon, you have to find other ways to score points. That can get complicated. It is much easier to get momentum on the scoreboard when your set piece is functioning.

“But it takes a lot of effort as well. I thought Ulster were quite physical in contact and it was pretty windy out there, so there were a lot of forward battles. So, it was good to see us come through that.”

Plumtree was impressed with the performance of young inside centre Ethan Hooker, a local who has come through from Westville Boys’ High.

The 21-year-old midfielder created an outstanding try early in the second half when he sprinted almost the length of the field in pursuit of a clearance by fullback Aphelele Fassi, and it led to the try by Buthelezi.

“Ethan has shown he belongs on the big stage. I’m very happy with how he has taken his chance. I thought he and Eduan Keyter have been strong additions to the side since we changed a few things for the Lions game a few weeks back,” Plumtree said.

“I was so disappointed for (No 8) George Cronjé when he got injured virtually from the kick-off. He is another youngster who is putting his hand up.

“I’m looking forward to growing a team with a spine of senior players and fleshed out with promising youth.”

Plumtree said that flyhalf Masuku is growing as a player since being picked ahead of Curwin Bosch.

“I thought Siya did okay. He was asked to do a lot of tackling in the wider channels, and he was good in that space. He looked comfortable across the line and playing flat,” Plumtree added.

“Some of our option-taking was a little bit poor, and inside their 22 when we were building pressure, we weren’t very accurate. It’s something for us to work on.

“Like I said, Ulster are a tough side and have a never-give-up attitude, so it was always going to be tough to break them down.”