Sharks need to overcome sponsorship spanner in the works ahead of URC clash

Makazole Mapimpi of the Sharks on the run with the ball against the Lions in their United Rugby Championship clash at Hollywoodbets Kings Park

Makazole Mapimpi of the Sharks on the run with the ball against the Lions in their United Rugby Championship clash, at Hollywoodbets Kings Park in Durban on December 23. Picture: Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Published Jan 5, 2023


Johannesburg - The Sharks have built up a healthy head of steam in recent weeks – a run of form that could be hampered by the terminal reliance on an increasingly unwieldy United Rugby Championship (URC) sponsorship deal.

Last year, the URC CEO Martin Anayi waxed lyrical when he announced that Qatar Airways would partner with the tournament to fly the SA franchises between Europe and the Republic.

It was a deal, he said, that would make the South African teams’ lives so much easier as they need not worry about the financial or logistical aspects of booking flights to participate in the competition.

Fast-forward to the present, and the partnership is reportedly not bearing the yield as promised and might even be having a negative effect on the SA sides who must fly first to Doha, transfer to their next flight to a European hub, and then depart to the actual city or venue where they will be playing … in economy class.

According to reports earlier this week, it took the Stormers more than 40 hours to arrive in Glasgow for their URC clash on Sunday. That is not ideal, and it now seems the Sharks have had to come to grips with similar travelling obstacles.

The high-flying Durbanites, undefeated in five matches in all competitions, take on a vulnerable Connacht on Saturday at the Galway Sportsground (kick-off 7.15pm) and will do so without the services of their Springboks, as reported by SuperSport.

And that is a major pity.

The Sharks have been in spectacular form in recent weeks, playing an attacking brand of rugby that is pleasing to the eye and built on the muscle of a superstar pack. Since their humiliating defeat to Cardiff Rugby in November last year, they have been improving every weekend.

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It started off tentatively with hard-fought victories over the Ospreys in a URC encounter, followed by triumphs over Harlequins and Bordeaux in the Heineken Champions Cup. The last fortnight, however, showed just how devastatingly good this unit could be as they swept aside the Lions 37-10 and then crushed the Bulls 47-20.

That might be derailed this weekend, with Neil Powell and his first-choice players allegedly remaining in Durban as they prepare for the return clash against French outfit Bordeaux at home next week. It is believed that Joey Mongalo will take the lead in Ireland with a team consisting of fringe players.

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Their recent run has been built on the back of such luminaries as Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Thomas du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Grant Williams, Curwin Bosch, Makazole Mapimpi, and Jaden Hendrikse but take those players out of the equation and the Sharks matchday 23 that will play this weekend will be a completely different proposition.

The Sharks name their team to face Connacht on Friday, and it is then that the picture will be completed, but it could be with a much-changed matchday 23 that they select in the hope of continuing their winning ways in the URC this weekend.