More hard work ahead for victorious Sharks

Emile van Heerden of Sharks secures the kick-off against Edinburgh on Saturday. BackpagePix

Emile van Heerden of Sharks secures the kick-off against Edinburgh on Saturday. BackpagePix

Published Apr 15, 2024


The Sharks made a bit of rugby history on Saturday, becoming the first South African team to reach a semi-final in a European Professional Club Rugby tournament but more hard work lies ahead if they are to reach the final.

A different beast awaits next month, in French club Clermont, and there are a few things the Durban side can improve on ahead of that game if they are to continue pushing for the title.

Lukhanyo Am scored for the Sharks in their 36-30 win against Edinburgh in their EPCR Challenge Cup quarter-final clash on Saturday. | BackpagePix

Luckily they have two clashes in the United Rugby Championship (URC) to use as a stepping stone towards the Challenge Cup semis.

The forwards laid the platform for Saturday’s 36-30 victory over Edinburgh at Kings Park, with the backs getting to stretch their legs in the match as well. Clermont ran Ulster, a fellow URC side, ragged in their quarter-final, winning 53-13. It’s a result that will definitely have caught the eye of the Sharks’ coaching staff.

Defensively the Sharks were sound, but the fact that they conceded plenty of penalties – especially in the first half – is something that will have to be addressed. Then, the two late tries by Edinburgh to make it a more respectable end score could have been shut out.

The maul defence late in the game will be under special scrutiny after the initial hard work in stopping the Edinburgh forwards off the line-outs was undone. But for the most part coach John Plumtree will be happy with how his team responded to the challenge, after trailing 16-14 at half-time due to the high penalty count.

The Sharks’ Emile van Heerden controls the maul against Edinburgh during their EPCR Challenge Cup clash on Saturday. | BackpagePix

“We had to tidy up on two or three things – our discipline, and the other was just our skill sets,” said Plumtree.

“We were turning over the ball and not playing well. We had no ball and no territory.

“It was pretty much what we did to them last time out (when the two sides met in the URC) and now they were doing it to us.”

Things changed in the second half and the Sharks were more composed as their forwards continued to power past the Edinburgh pack, while the backs, with exciting flyhalf Siya Masuku at the helm, found more space to sling the ball around.

They could have rounded off more tries, but thanks to the pressure, won penalties within kicking distance and Masuku obliged by slotting them over to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

James Venter of Sharks scored their second ty against Edinburgh this past Saturday. | BackpagePix

That is play-off rugby, and come the first weekend in May when they play Clermont in London, any and all points will be vital to secure passage to the finals that will be played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London.

“We have a couple of big games before we get to the semi-finals, but we certainly will have one eye on it. We will use the next two games to build (on) our game. It is a big stage against a quality French side, so that is something for us to build towards.

“I am feeling great (about the progression). I am happy for the fans. They haven’t had a lot to cheer about and now there is something to look forward to, us playing a semi-final in London.”

The Sharks next travel to Scotland where they will face the Glasgow Warriors. They can do their fellow South African sides a favour by beating the Scots, who currently occupy second place on the URC points table with the Bulls and Stormers chasing the Warriors.