Sharks blow Pau out of the tank in Challenge Cup opener in Durban

Sharks head coach John Plumtree

FILE - Sharks head coach John Plumtree. Photo: SteveHaagSports/INPHO/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

Published Dec 9, 2023


The Sharks exorcised the ghosts of the 44-10 defeat to the Bulls in the URC just over a week ago by opening their European Challenge Cup account with a similar score-line of 45-5, the riposte coach John Plumtree had demanded.

For the Sharks this game was always going to be about their response to the humiliation in Pretoria the week before. It did not matter whether Pau sent their A, B or C side to Durban for this opening match of the second-tier tournament to the Heineken Cup.

If anything there was the touch of the Under-20s about some of the Pau players and the baby-faced flyhalf looked like he might not as yet own a razor.

What John Plumtree wanted after Loftus was 80 minutes of intensity and the coach got that for the lion's share of the match. It should be highlighted, too, that the conditions could not have been in starker contrast to the Bulls game, with the dry heat of the Highveld giving way to a miserable drizzle that blew in from the south for the duration of the game.

The ball was soon rendered treacherously slippery but the Sharks did attempt to play rugby although before long the grubber kick became a vital weapon.

There were commanding performances throughout the ranks of the Sharks but if a star was picked from the backs and another from the forwards I would go for Boks Lukhanyo Am and Eben Etzebeth.

Am’s growing form has been a beacon in the darkness that has largely been the Shark’s season thus far while Etzebeth was menacing for the 50 minutes he played and enjoyed two tries for his efforts, earning him the Man of the Match award.

The Sharks’ first try was well worked —a tap penalty near the Pau line was driven up by Ox Nche and then the quick ball was whipped wide where Am took the pass at full pace and went over under the crossbar.

The Sharks were still patting themselves on the back when the Frenchmen struck back, virtually from the restart. They found space out wide, the ball was nudged over the defence and left wing Gregoire Arfeuil won the dash to the dead ball area for the dot down.

But that there was their lot for the night and they were no more than drenched defenders thereafter.

Am showed power and poise in equal measure to go over for his second try and Curwin Bosch added a penalty on the half-hour mark to take the score out to 17-3.

At the back, Aphelele Fassi was magnificent under the high ball and his kicks for touch have improved hugely.

It was one such touch-finder by the fullback set up an attack on the line that culminated in Etzebeth crashing over for the third try. Bosch’s conversion sailed over to the sound of the half-time hooter, with the score ominous at 24-5.

The bonus-point try was nailed a minute into the second half when right wing Marnus Potgieter finished strongly in the corner.

And five minutes into the half, a ruck on the Pau line saw the long arm of Etzebeth reach through the melee of bodies to ground the ball by his fingertips.

The last quarter of the match lost its sparkle as the teams were overhauled with substitutions but after that flurry of scoring by the Sharks in the ten minutes after half-time, the game had been emphatically won and lost and the desultory crowd seemed more interested in singing in the rain to Sweet Caroline than too much else.


Sharks 45 —Tries: Lukhanyo Am (2), Eben Etzebeth (2), Marnus Potgieter, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (6). Penalty: Bosch.

Pau 5 — Tries: Gregoire Arfeuil

IOL Sport