Buzzing Springboks aim to ‘keep setting the standard’ at Sharks

Eben Etzebeth will be key for the Sharks when they take on the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship this weekend

Eben Etzebeth will be key for the Sharks when they take on the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship this weekend. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

Published Nov 30, 2023


Picking a whole host of returning Springboks for a franchise can go two ways: either your team suddenly fires on all cylinders, or there is disruption and the players battle to achieve cohesion.

It was certainly the first scenario for the Sharks last weekend as they hammered the Dragons 69-14 at Kings Park.

Coach John Plumtree had little choice but to involve all his World Cup Springboks – Ox Nche, Eben Etzebeth, Jaden Hendrikse, Grant Williams and Makazole Mapimpi, with Lukhanyo Am having already featured a week earlier.

They will still have to wait a few more months before the injured front-rowers Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch are ready to play again.

Mapimpi was the man of the match and scored a try, while Williams grabbed a brace, with Am and Etzebeth also on the scoresheet.

But with a massive United Rugby Championship SA derby against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld coming up on Saturday (3pm kick-off), the Durban outfit can’t afford to let the momentum gained last weekend be wasted.

The Sharks have a tough festive season schedule, where they will face the Bulls, French club Pau (at home) and the Cheetahs (away) in the Challenge Cup, and then the Stormers in Cape Town on December 30.

One of those Bok stars, Nche, said the world champion players won’t have any difficulty raising their games again after the high of clinching the Webb Ellis Cup in Paris on October 28.

“We can’t get over it (the buzz of winning the World Cup). We will be on it for the next four years. So, still feeling excited, still feeling positive,” the loosehead prop said this week.

“I think about what I can potentially do, and for me, it’s about being at that standard. I can’t now all of a sudden do less than what I was doing at the World Cup and for the Springboks.

“It’s about setting that standard and keeping going on the way that I’ve been playing. It’s crucial (to maintain the momentum) because now we can’t just put in a good performance like we did this past weekend and then think everything is just going to happen.

“It’s going to be very important (to keep improving) because we’ve already started the momentum and we just have to try to keep going at it.

“If you look at the Bulls, they have been playing amazing rugby and they seem to be gelling pretty well together. So, it’s going to be a big task and it’s going to really test us.”

The Sharks lost five on the trot before the Dragons game – against Munster (34-21), Leinster (34-13), Ospreys (19-5), Zebre (12-10) and Connacht (13-12).

But Nche doesn’t believe their big win over the Dragons was only due to the Springboks’ presence.

“When you look at our games, we’ve been playing exactly the same, and it’s just the finishing touches that I think we needed to touch up on. Just a little bit of detail,” he said.

“I think the guys decided you know what, just a little bit more – and we expected the dam wall to break, and it did this past weekend. Hopefully we can take that momentum into the rest of the season.

“There was a sense of excitement when we got here, and it’s still the same. But now, because we got the win this weekend, the guys are like, ‘You know what, what we’ve been doing well can actually win us games, and we can actually make it happen’.

“That’s just the tiny mindset thing that for me personally I might have picked up – that what we are doing can work, and the sense of belief must be there now.”

The Bulls have won four of their six matches, and are coming off a resounding 53-27 victory over Connacht at Loftus.

Jake White’s side will look to play a high-tempo style again on what is sure to be another hot Pretoria day, but that doesn’t worry Nche and the Sharks.

“It’s a game of 23 men, so our philosophy is pretty similar to the Boks: just give it your all as long as you can, and the next guy (can go on). It’s been six games, and the guys have been playing full games and are fit enough to play at altitude,” the 28-year-old prop said.

“So, we will stick to our philosophy, and the only thing we can really get out of it is a better team.

“We have to push ourselves now, and if it does have an effect, we will come out as better players in the end.

“If you’ve been watching the Bulls games, they’ve been running with the ball, they kick well, they dominate in contact ... Their defence systems are in place.

“They are going to give a complete package of challenges in every single thing. We have to be highly ready for it all, or we will come out second best.

“John (Plumtree) has own philosophies, and he is strong to the core about those. It’s not really different, but more encouraged – go out there, tempo, play what you see. Play that which we want the people to associate with the Sharks.”


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