Plumtree pleased as Sharks make historical semi-final

EMILE van Heerden of the Sharks catching the ball during 2023/24 EPCR Challenge Cup rugby match against Edinburgh at Hollywoodbets Kings Park Stadium yesterday. | BackpagePix

EMILE van Heerden of the Sharks catching the ball during 2023/24 EPCR Challenge Cup rugby match against Edinburgh at Hollywoodbets Kings Park Stadium yesterday. | BackpagePix

Published Apr 14, 2024


A MASSIVE defensive shift on their try line in the first 40 and some exciting running rugby in the second half by the Sharks paved the way for a 36-30 win against Edinburgh in the European Challenge Cup quarter-final.

The victory at Kings Park means the home side is the first South African team to reach the final four of a European tournament, and they keep their hopes alive of heading to the final next month.

The score was close in the end after the Scots came back with two maul tries, one when the clock was deep in the red, but by then the Sharks had already secured the victory.

A turning point in the game was a breakaway try in the second half when Bok hooker Bongi Mbonambi peeled away from a thundering rolling maul to go over untouched.

Player of the Match Siya Masuku kicked penalties to keep the scoreboard ticking before and after the Mbonambi try, and the home side slowly but surely pulled away from their visitors.

Masuku was on song with his overall game, despite missing an early penalty attempt from right in front of the posts. That miss didn’t put him off his game, though, and he had the upper hand over his opponents.

When he took the ball to the line, he kept asking questions of the defenders. The 26-year-old gained massive distance on his line kicks as well, and had a hand in the first try of captain Lukhanyo Am.

But the main instigator of the Am try was left winger Makazole Mapimpi who had another excellent performance alongside the rest of the Sharks backs.

Mapimpi received the ball on the touch when Masuku sent it down the line, the winger put in a deft chip kick and chased it down to send Am on his inside away with a pass.

The try reminded one of the 2019 World Cup final when the two also combined after a Mapimpi chip which Am collected and sent the ball back to the winger to score.

Flanker James Venter also put in a big shift and rounded off another try after the ball moved swiftly through the hands after another good attack.

Lock Eben Etzebeth was on hand to receive a loop-ball pass from wing Werner Kok, and he made a bulldozing run down the touch, making the final pass in a tackle to send Venter over.

Etzebeth received a yellow card in the first half after the Sharks were on a team penalty warning for ill-discipline. And that discipline issue is about all they have to fix to stay competitive in the competition.

“We spoke about being more disciplined and winning the referee over by doing so,” Sharks head coach John Plumtree said about how they limited the penalty count in the second half.

“And if we tidied up our skill set, both forwards and backs, we could get on top of them. Those penalties allowed them to get into our corners. They did a great job applying the pressure.

“We just had to get on top of them, and once that happened, the confidence came.”

The backs were mostly responsible for the penalties in the first half, leading to Edinburgh going up 16-14 at the break. They only scored once through prop Pierre Schoeman after the defensive wall finally broke, but kickable penalties gave the visitors the lead on the stroke of half-time.

The Sharks’ victory was built up front with a massive scrum that at times did not get the rewards they were hoping for, but overall Plumtree will be pleased by the front-rankers.

“We have been struggling up front, but having the big boys back helped. We were not perfect, and we can still get better by heaps. But we are going in the right direction.”

The Sharks will face Clermont in the semi-finals.

Points scorers:

Sharks 36 (14): Tries: Lukhanyo Am, James Venter, Bongi Mbonambi. Conversions: Siya Masuku (3). Penalties: Masuku (4), Curwin Bosch.

Edinburgh 30 (16): Tries: Pierre Schoeman, Hamish Watson, Dave Cherry. Conversions: Ben Healy (3). Penalties: Healy (3).