Plumtree fields his big guns against Zebre

rugby05 April 2024 13:43| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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John Plumtree © Gallo Images

Hollywoodbets Sharks coach John Plumtree has shown his respect for both Zebre and what knock-out rugby requires by selecting what looks like his strongest available team for Sunday’s EPCR Challenge Cup round of 16 clash with the Italian outfit in Durban.

Zebre did beat the Sharks in Parma in a Vodacom United Rugby Championship clash back in November but that was an understrength Sharks team without its Springboks. You wouldn’t expect Zebre to challenge the Sharks in a game at Hollywoodbets Kings Park, but then in the knock-out stage of any competition you don’t get a chance to atone if you get it wrong.

So Plumtree is right to go full muster for this game, with the injured Bok lock Eben Etzebeth the only big name missing from the team. Vincent Koch is back after missing last week’s game against Edinburgh because of a stomach bug he picked up on the morning of the game, thus completing a full strength Bok front row with hooker Bongi Mbonambi and loosehead prop Ox Nche.

Hanro Jacobs, who has impressed when he has started for the Sharks, moves back to the bench. Corne Rahl, the impressive youngster of whom much should be expected going forward, gets his chance to start alongside Emile van Heerden.

The same loose trio that faced Edinburgh will start Sunday’s game, while there is only one change to the backline that started against the Scottish team - young star Ethan Hooker is back in the midfield alongside skipper Lukhanyo Am as a replacement for Francois Venter. A welcome returnee to the squad is the Sharks’ second Bok scrumhalf, Grant Williams, who will back up Jaden Hendrikse and who with his pace is the perfect man to bring on as an impact sub.

Siya Masuku has obviously impressed Plumtree as this will be his third successive match in the No 10 jersey. He has been the starting pivot in URC matches against the Emirates Lions, Ulster and Edinburgh after making his first appearance for the Sharks at the URC level of competition as a replacement against the DHL Stormers. Curwin Bosch, who was entrusted with the flyhalf responsibilities before that, continues as a backline replacement.

Plumtree admits that the Sharks taking a winning feeling into this game following back-to-back URC victories is a real positive for the team.

“That’s a big thing for us, confidence is something you can’t underestimate in sport. We’re working hard, the leaders are keeping everyone grounded and we know what this game means to us.”

This match is not just a knock-out game, the performance offers the opportunity for redemption for the Sharks too.

“We know we’ve let a lot of people down this season and we want to win them back,” said the coach.

“The only way we can do that is on the field and that’s what we’re trying to do. This is a big game and if we do well, we earn the right to play another one.”

TEAM: Aphelele Fassi, Werner Kok, Lukhanyo Am, Ethan Hooker, Makazole Mapimpi, Siya Masuku, Jaden Hendrikse, Phepsi Buthelezi, Vincent Tshituka, James Venter, Emile van Heerden, Corne Rahl, Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche. Replacements: Kerron van Vuuren, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Hanro Jacobs, Gerbrandt Grobler, Jeandre Labuschagne, Grant Williams, Curwin Bosch.