Sharks hope tide is turning ahead of Stormers United Rugby Championship clash

Aphelele Fassi of the Cell C Sharks during the Super Rugby match between Cell C Sharks and Blues at Jonsson Kings Park on February 23, 2019 in Durban, South Africa

File. It is exactly a year since the Sharks last beat a South African side in the United Rugby Championship. Seen here: Fullback Aphelele Fassi with the ball. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency(ANA).

Published Feb 16, 2024


It is exactly a year since the Sharks last beat a South African side in the United Rugby Championship – but the rumblings from the Shark Tank suggest that the tide is about to turn.

This might sound like the view of a rabid Sharks fan, but the cold statistics released by the tournament organisers point to the Sharks being a better side than their results indicate.

And the results are miserable – the Sharks have only one win of their last 11 URC matches (going across two seasons), and you have to go back to February last year for their last defeat of a local team, away to the Lions.

So, what are the grounds for optimism?

John Plumtree’s philosophy taking time to yield results

When John Plumtree retook the coaching reins in August last year, he used the metaphor of a parent nurturing a newborn to illustrate his plan for the Sharks to learn a new type of game, one of all-encompassing attacks.

Plumtree’s ‘infant’ has given the attacking game a full go – although there has been just one win in nine games this URC season, five of the defeats have been by three points or less.

Moreover, in those 10 games, the Sharks have gained more metres (3 707) than any other side.

Fullback Aphelele Fassi alone has run for 675 of those metres to lead the way in the competition.

Amazingly – given they have made the most attacking metres – they have scored the third-fewest points of the 16 teams.

That points to Plumtree’s great frustration with his team’s shocking conversion rate in the opposition’s red zone.

His team plays excellent rugby to get from one end of the field to the other, but then struggles to put the ball over the line.

On the occasions when they put the whole package together, they smash the opposition, as in their 69-14 slaying of the Dragons in November.

Impressive attacking side

The Sharks have also made the third-most offloads in the URC, they are fourth out of 16 when it comes to defenders beaten and they have made an impressive 59 line breaks.

Interestingly, the Sharks also have the most efficient line-out in the URC.

So, what’s going wrong?

The answer lies in the unwanted statistics they top – their 135 turnovers and 102 penalties are more than any other team.

The staggering charity to the opposition has undermined the great work they do with the ball in hand.

Plumtree mulled over these statistics during his month’s leave back in New Zealand, and he is convinced that his team can beat the Stormers on Saturday (5.05pm kick-off) if they can put the costly turnovers behind them.

Eliminating costly mistakes

“It has been a huge focus in training since I have been back,” Plumtree said.

“We have looked long and hard at how to rid ourselves of those soft and very costly moments.

“It’s got to be a team performance. We were pretty good for most of the game in Cape Town, but there were elements of our game that let us down as well.

“We know what to expect from the Stormers, and we are working hard on coping with what they will bring – while also ensuring we don’t give them opportunities through silly mistakes.

“We are looking for consistency in our performance to find some real confidence and belief, as to how we can play this game.

“There are nine games to go in the URC, and we feel like we can still get up the table and hopefully qualify (for the play-offs).”

IOL Sport