Sharks break URC drought but miss bonus point

PHEPSI Buthelezi celebrates a try with Hollywoodbets Sharks teammates against Ulster in Durban yesterday. | Shutterstock

PHEPSI Buthelezi celebrates a try with Hollywoodbets Sharks teammates against Ulster in Durban yesterday. | Shutterstock

Published Mar 23, 2024


SHARKS coach John Plumtree was relief personified when he spoke of his team’s drought-breaking 22-12 defeat of Ulster in yesterday’s United Rugby Championship fixture at Hollywoodbets Kings Park.

“It has been long-time coming for the players, the coaches, the staff at the union, and certainly the fans,” Plumtree grinned.

The Sharks were enriched with a host of returning Springboks and they made a significant difference to team morale.

“When you have such big names coming in it is not just their playing ability but how they lift those around them,” Plumtree said. “Look at how youngsters like Ethan Hooker, Corne Rahl and Eduan Keyter played. We are seeing some young men proving they belong at this level.

“The big thing now is for this team to get some games under the belt because while they are all good players, they have not played together and there was some rust out there.”

It would never be an easy day in Africa for the Ulster men given that the Sharks were enriched with reinforcements and, perhaps more significantly, were fed up with their 16th place on the ladder.

Until this game the Durban team had won one and lost 10 in the tournament and they have been ridiculed in South Africa for the disastrous return on one of the richest wage bills in rugby.

There was a typical autumn north-easterly blowing strongly across The Tank, which was not good for the surfers but it kept the 30-degree heat tolerable.

The visitors had that wind at their back in the first half and a kicking strategy was wise but Bok bruiser Eben Etzebeth made a nuisance of himself, twice stretching out his long arms to force charge downs of scrumhalf John Cooney’s kicks.

Another Springbok, Steven Kitshoff was equally influential and he stole a crucial turnover for Ulster when Makazole Mapimpi was tackled in front of the Ulster posts.

From that possession, Ulster moved the ball up field and in their first venture into the Sharks’ red zone, they worked slickly through the phases to propel flank Harry Sheridan over.

The Sharks responded with a spectacular 80m counter-attack of their own. When an Ulster attack broke down a few metres from the Sharks’ line, fullback Aphelele Fassi hoofed the ball down the field.

Hooker chased the ball to within inches of the line, with Will Addison having chased him all the way. The ball popped backwards out of the tackle for chasing flanker Phepsi Buthelezi to gather and score.

There was a let-off for Ulster minutes later when Bok hooker Bongi Mbonambi could not find his jumpers from a penalty kicked to the corner.

From the ensuing scrum, the Sharks won a scrum penalty but when they rumbled the ball toward the line they knocked on. Ulster were grateful for the charity, with the half-time hooter sounding seconds later.

The game had barely restarted when flyhalf Billy Burns went down with a shoulder injury.

The half grew worse for the visitors when the Sharks produced a bit of magic. Young Bok prop Ntuthuko Mchunu celebrated his 50th appearance with a bustling break and from there, left wing Mapimpi nudged the ball through the defence for right wing Eduan Keyter to score as the ball was about to go over the deadball line.

Flyhalf Siya Masuku converted and a few minutes later added a penalty and suddenly the Sharks had a 10-point cushion at 17-7.

In a big moment in the game and a drop of good fortune for Ulster, the ball mysteriously squirted out of a ruck near the Sharks line and lock Kieran Treadwell picked up the ball and crashed over. The ref asked the TMO to investigate how the ball popped out but no crime appeared to have been committed and the try stood.

Importantly, Cooney missed the conversion to keep the Sharks four points in front.

The Sharks were cranking up the pressure as their Bomb Squad detonated and Ulster lost skipper Iain Henderson to the sin bin when he collared lock Rahl.

From the same pressure, Mbonambi wrestled over for the Sharks’ third try.

The final minutes were about bonus points — the Sharks were chasing the fourth try while Ulster had the carrot of finishing within seven points. Neither was successful



Tries: Phepsi Buthelezi, Eduan Keyter, Bongi Mbonambi.

Conversions: Siya Masuku(2).

Penalties: Siya Masuku


Tries: Harry Sheridan, Kieran Treadwell .

Conversion: John Cooney

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