Sharks return to top table engagements

HOLLYWOODBETS Sharks’ Vincent Tshituka returns to Challenge Cup action. | Shutterstock

HOLLYWOODBETS Sharks’ Vincent Tshituka returns to Challenge Cup action. | Shutterstock

Published Apr 28, 2024


While coach John Plumtree last week banned talk of this week’s Big One against Clermont Auvergne at The Stoop, Friday night’s United Rugby Championship match in Llanelli was always a dress rehearsal for the Clermont game.

This Cup semi-final is of enormous consequence for the Sharks because their URC campaign was scuppered months ago when they lost nine of their first 10 games.

But all has not been lost because the Sharks’ presence in the Challenge Cup — the competition for the poor relations with the big boys of the Champions Cup — gives the winners automatic entry into next season’s lucrative Champions Cup.

So while the Stormers, Bulls and Lions are currently busting their backsides to qualify for the top eight of the URC to gain entry into the Champions Cup, the Sharks are two wins away from a seat at the top table.

In short, they need to beat Clermont on Saturday at The Stoop, the home ground of Harlequins, and win the final.

Easier said than done, of course, but it can certainly be done when you have a host of World Cup-winning Springboks in your midst.

And Eben Etzebeth, Ox Nche and Vincent Koch et al were impressive in the Sharks’ domination of the Scarlets. And there is still the hugely influential Bongi Mbonambi to add to the mix — he missed the Scarlets game because of an injury but is good to go for Clermont.

Plumtree, speaking from London, was in a good mood.

“I was happy with big parts of the game,” he said. “The forwards were outstanding in the set pieces while the backs in the second half did well in keeping the ball in front of the forwards. That made a big difference because we could pressurise the Scarlets’ lineout.

“It was a very good preparation for the Clermont game this week. I was very happy with the options the backs took, notably the cross-kicks from Siya Masuku to Werner Kok that resulted in excellent tries.

Speaking of Blitzboks legend Kok, it is not often a player celebrating a milestone such as a 50th cap can do so in style by accomplishing something sensational. Kok did just that by scoring a hat-trick of tries and Sharks fans are lamenting why the powers-that-be at the Sharks have shown him the door.

At the end of this season, Kok joins Ulster in Northern Ireland because his contract at the Sharks was not renewed.

It is a decision I have criticised before and will continue to do so because it doesn’t make sense. The Sharks are trying to build a team culture based on ultimate effort by all squad members. Kok embodies this, and the way his teammates thronged to him each time he scored illustrated it.

The Sharks got it wrong in choosing not to invest Kok for the future development of the team, of that, I have no doubt.