Sharks stick with continuity mantra for Dragons

rugby19 January 2024 14:35| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Neil Powell © Gallo Images

The Hollywoodbets Sharks haven’t changed their team much in recent matches and they are continuing with that policy as they head into their final Pool 1 match in the EPCR Challenge Cup against the Dragons in Newport on Sunday.

Eben Etzebeth is being rested for this game after he played off the bench against Oyonnax last week, otherwise all the big guns who played in recent matches across both the Challenge Cup and the Vodacom United Rugby Championship will be doing duty in a game which will secure top spot in their group for the Sharks if they win.

The only changes to the team that started the workmanlike 38-7 win over an inexperienced but tenacious Oyonnax side in Durban last weekend are rotations at scrumhalf, where Jaden Hendrikse replaces Grant Williams, while James Venter is back in the No 6 jersey for last week’s impressive debutant, Tinotenda Mavesere. Both Williams and Mavesere are on the bench in Newport.

The Dragons have been struggling for a long time and must be rank underdogs, even at home, but Sharks director of rugby Neil Powell is wary of the consequences of complacency after last week’s comfortable win as well as their one sided annihilation of the Dragons in the URC in Durban at the start of December.

“We have to actively go out there against the Dragons this week and go make it happen,” said Powell in an online press conference this week.

“We know the challenge we’re up against, not just the opposition but the weather conditions we will face in Wales where it’s mostly in the minuses. We’re happy to have had a win, it was much-needed, and while there were a lot of positives out of that game, there are things we still need to work on. But a good foundation to build on for the game against the Dragons.”

With Oyonnax proving more of an obstacle at times last week than was expected, it at least ensured the Sharks had a proper workout, with their defence being tested as well as their attacking game.

“There was a 10-minute period last week when we defended our 22 and held Oyonnax out, managing to prevent them from scoring any points. So, from a defensive perspective, it was a really good performance from the boys. It was not perfect but we were proud of the commitment and effort shown.

“The focus for us going into this game is that if we want to be successful there, we can’t have any areas of our game that aren’t functioning to potential. We need to be clinical in every area.”

The Sharks are on a four week break after this, with their next game being the 17 February URC coastal derby against the DHL Stormers at Hollywoodbets Kings Park, so the Sharks can afford to empty their tanks on Sunday and end off this phase of their season with a flourish.

Hollywoodbets Sharks team: Aphelele Fassi, Werner Kok, Lukhanyo Am (captain), Francois Venter, Makazole Mapimpi, Curwin Bosch, Jaden Hendrikse, Phepsi Buthelezi, Lappies Labuschagne, James Venter, Gerbrandt Grobler, Corne Rahl, Hanro Jacobs, Fez Mbatha, Ox Nche. Replacements: Dan Jooste, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Coenie Oosthuizen, Le Roux Roets, Tinotenda Mavesere, Grant Williams, Lionel Cronje, Rohan Janse van Rensburg.