Plumtree takes Sharks on semi-final dress rehearsal against Scarlets

APHELELE Fassi of Sharks one of the players expected to be unleashed on Friday’s dress rehearsal against Scarlets. | BackpagePix

APHELELE Fassi of Sharks one of the players expected to be unleashed on Friday’s dress rehearsal against Scarlets. | BackpagePix

Published Apr 24, 2024


ON Friday night the Sharks play a United Rugby Championship match against the Scarlets that doubles as a dress rehearsal for next week’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Clermont Auvergne in London.

The log points at stake are of little consequence, but the performance’s quality is vital. We look at five things the Durbanites must get right in this match with an eye on Clermont.

Make a statement

The Sharks’ marketing department has released a clever “call-to-arms” poster advert on social media ahead of the semi-final against Clermont. That game takes place at the home ground of Harlequins, The Stoop, which is in the shadow of Twickenham Stadium. The poster says “Make The Stoop our Stoep!” It is an appeal to South Africans in the greater London area to attend the game. The poster is clever but the best way to attract Sharks fans is to destroy the Scarlets on Friday night.

Get the selection balance right

The advert described above features photos of Eben Etzebeth and Bongi Mbonambi looking suitably stern. These two seasoned Springboks will be the most important pillars in the Sharks pack against Clermont. They are also senior players who need to be managed. Coach John Plumtree has to correctly gauge how much action to give them against the Scarlets. The pair must be fresh for Clermont but also not rusty. The group of star players that did not travel for last week’s Glasgow game are now in Wales. They are going to play on Friday but mustn’t be overplayed.

Unleash the Weekend Special

Plumtree won’t be shy to give extended game time to red-hot Aphelele Fassi, who was one of the group rested for the Warriors. He was Player of the Match in the quarter-final defeat of Edinburgh and he dominated the stats released by the United Rugby Championship organisers last week.

Fassi led the URC in two categories — the 967 metres he had gained with ball in hand was 150 metres more than any other player in the competition. His 18 clean breaks were also the most while his 148 carries were second only to Gavin Coombes of Munster.

Don’t underestimate the Scarlets

The Welsh teams have had a horror URC in general but they are finishing strongly. The Stormers will tell you as much after their shock loss to the Ospreys. Last week the Scarlets were leading Edinburgh at half time in the Scottish capital before fading in the second. Speaking of the Ospreys, Plumtree coached them to great success in the late ‘90s when they were Swansea, before they gained the URC nickname, The Ospreys. Plumtree knows Welsh rugby in detail and how well he knows one of the Scarlets flanks on Friday night, his son Taine. The Scarlets have some nifty players, including current Wales internationals in flyhalf Sam Costelow and scrumhalf Gareth Davies.

Polish the tactics

It is hard to say now what the weather will be like at the Stoop for the semi-final but even if the skies are clear, the pitch will not be as fast as Hollywoodbets Kings Park. This match in Llanelli allows playmakers Jaden Hendrikse and Siya Masuku the opportunity to perfect their approach between playing for territory and running the ball. Given the power of the Sharks’ pack, which should be at full strength for most of the match, Masuku will want to keep the ball in front of Ezebeth and Co and let them exert pressure deep in Scarlets territory.