Sharks going for momentum and confidence

EMILE van Heerden of Hollywoodbets Sharks going for ball. | Shutterstock

EMILE van Heerden of Hollywoodbets Sharks going for ball. | Shutterstock

Published Apr 7, 2024


Mike Greenaway

Momentum and confidence have been in short supply at the Sharks this season but those precious commodities have returned to kick-start the Sharks campaign to win the Challenge Cup, starting this afternoon against Zebre (2pm).

The spring is back in the Sharks’ step courtesy of back-to-back victories over teams substantially higher than them on the United Rugby Championship log.

First Ulster and last week Edinburgh were dispatched with relative ease and the exciting thing for the Sharks is that they are going to get better the more they play because coach John Plumtree at last has all of his frontline troops.

There was a fair amount of rust against Ulster, against Edinburgh there was a bit more polish, and if it wasn’t for the predicted rain this afternoon, I think Zebre would get a good pasting.

The Sharks are due to click and I predict they will go up a level this afternoon.

“It’s a big thing for us, the confidence produced by the recent wins,” Plumtree admitted. “You can’t underestimate it in sport. We are working hard, and the leaders are keeping everyone grounded. We know what the Zebre game means to us as we turn our focus and energy to the Challenge Cup. It was crucial to build confidence. We know we have a good squad, we have everyone back and most of the squad is fit.”

Plumtree said he has players competing for places for the first time since he returned to the Shark Tank last August. For months, the coach had to go with what he had, but with players now back from the Boks and from injuries, nobody can cruise anymore.

“The wins were also what we needed to create that competition that I have wanted for so long,” he said. “We are in a good place. There is healthy rivalry and the players are enjoying each other's company. They are being well led, and we have a bit of momentum going into an important part of the season for us.”

It is one thing for Plumtree to have players back, but the next step is for them to get into groove by playing alongside each other for a sequence of games. Today is game three for many combinations, so I reckon the Sharks will shift up a gear.

For example, this is the third time that the crucial halfback combination of Jaden Hendrikse and Siya Masuku will play together and they will be much better for it.

The midfield combination of Ethan Hooker and Lukhanyo Am is a mouthwatering one. Hooker is young, hungry and explosive, while Am is cool, calm and world-class; while there are only World Cup winners in the front row of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch.

“We have some nice foundations and the big thing now is to show improvement. We need to start nailing more of the opportunities we are creating. It is always good to have something to build on. It is tough to build anything when you are losing.

“We have looked at why we are not finishing as well as we could and hopefully we will get it right against Zebre.”


Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Ethan Hooker, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 James Venter, 5 Emile van Heerden, 4 Corne Rahl, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche

Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Gerbrandt Grobler, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Francois Venter