Sharks can still make a play for silverware

Bongi Mbonambi the Sharks. | BackpagePix

Bongi Mbonambi the Sharks. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 20, 2024


Mike Greenaway

The United Rugby Championship is a lost cause for the Sharks but Bok bruiser Eben Etzebeth says the Durbanites can still get their hands on silverware in the form of the Challenge Cup.

And if the Sharks do win this second-tier knock-out competition, they will automatically qualify for the more lucrative Champions Cup, something they currently cannot do by finishing in the top eight of the URC.

There are not enough games left for the Sharks to climb from 16th into play-off territory.

“The Challenge Cup is now something we are targeting as it will mean we can get into the Champions Cup if we win it,” Etzebeth said.

“Unfortunately, trying to qualify by making the top eight in the URC is no longer possible, which is disappointing if you consider how early in the season it still is.”

Bongi Mbonambi the Sharks. | BackpagePix

Etzebeth did press conference duty for the Sharks yesterday ahead of their URC match against Ulster in Durban on Saturday and his presence was a statement of intent from a Sharks team that is sick of losing.

“There is always pride in the jersey and that means a lot to play for,” he said.

“We want to make it difficult for teams to come to Durban. We need to get a few good away wins too. We want to get to a point where the other teams won’t want to play us.”

Etzebeth and fellow World Cup Bok Vincent Koch will play their first game of the season this weekend and the men for Northern Ireland could be in for a torrid time.

“It has not been a good season for us and, to be honest, there are no excuses for that,” said Etzebeth.

“We need to take a hard look at ourselves, both as individuals and as a collective. We have had plans in place but we just haven’t been executing them well enough.

“We will be looking to rectify that for the remainder of the season so we can start next season feeling more confident.”

The Sharks will have their full contingent of Boks available and that means Etzebeth and Koch will be joining Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche and Ntuthuko Mchunu.

Vincent Koch could make his debut for the Sharks in the URC this weekend. | BackpagePix

“It is the first time this season most of our top players are playing and it will certainly be the first time Vincent plays for the Sharks,” said Etzebeth, who last week was unveiled as the SA Rugby Player of the Year award, as he was last year.

“Bongi was back against the Stormers, but this is the first time we will all be playing and collectively it is the strongest 23 we have fielded in 2024. But while it will be a boost to have everyone back it is easy to talk about it. It is what happens on the field that counts.”

Etzebeth has been missing in action because of national resting protocols and also because he needed maintenance work on a long-term knee problem.

“I had been struggling with the knee for a while, from before the World Cup. It was the perfect time for me to have the operation with the break that it entailed as it meant that while I was out for seven weeks, I only missed two derby matches (against the Stormers and Lions). I initially wanted to do it straight after the World Cup but the timing wasn’t good as at the time we had two Boks out injured.

“It already feels better than it was before the operation so that is a big positive for me,” Etzebeth added - in good news for the Springboks as well as the Sharks.

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