It was always going to be a tough ask for the Sharks to begin their United Rugby Championship season with an away victory over defending champions Munster but the good news is that the new John Plumtree era has begun on a promising note.
The score was 34-21 in this first match of Plumtree’s second tenure as coach but a team without eight Springboks still in France showed promising ambition on attack, intensity, and importantly, committed defence.
Before this game, Plumtree asked for patience from supporters because his plans for the Sharks would take time to come to fruition, and fair play to the New Zealander because his team played with heart and adventure.
No more can be asked at this early stage of the season and the positive signs from the Sharks’ play suggest that Plumtree will be successful in the long run.
It was a lively start from the Sharks against a Munster side that had had just one defeat in their previous 11 URC matches. It was also Munster’s first match since they won the title in Cape Town earlier this year.
Early on, Blitzboks legend Werner Kok was effervescent as always and was inspirational in his work rate and his ability to make a tackle, spring to his feet and get his hands on the ball to win a penalty.
The Sharks twice came within inches of scoring in the first 15 minutes, with scrumhalf Cameron Wright and prop Ntuthuko Mchunu both being held up with the line tantalisingly close.
However, it was Munster who scored first when their 20-year-old lock Edwin Edogbo barged over for an against-the-run-of-play try.
This was closely followed by a try by hooker Diarmuid Barron, who benefitted from a break in the Sharks’ 22 by flyhalf Joey Carbery.
The Sharks burst back into the game as the first half neared 40 minutes, with Curwin Bosch exploding through a gap on halfway before offloading to Kok for a dart to the corner flag.
Bosch converted brilliantly from the touchline to cut the Munster lead to 14-7 but, heartbreakingly, they did not close the half out — Munster were able to scramble a kick to the in-goal area where centre Antoine Frisch got a hand on the ball.
Munster kicked the first points of the second half when Mchunu was unfairly penalised at a ruck in front of his posts, but the reality was a 24-7 lead.
This Sharks team was never going to roll over and when Wright nailed a superb 50-22 and from the lineout, flanker Phepsi Buthelezi set up Rohan Janse van Rensburg for a charge to the line.
On 65 minutes, Wright was yellow-carded for a high tackle and without a scrumhalf, the Sharks were under pressure. It wasn’t long before wing Andrew Conway was worked into space for his team’s fourth try.
The home side nailed their fifth via scrumhalf Neil Cronin but the Sharks had the last say when Apehele Fassi scored in injury time.
Munster 34 — Tries: Edwin Edogbo, Diarmuid Barron, Antoine Frisch, Andrew Conway, Neil Cronin. Conversions: Joey Carbery (3). Penalty: Joey Carbery.
Sharks — Tries: Werner Kok, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Apehelel Fassi. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (3).