Sharks going in with plenty of title winning experience

rugby03 May 2024 12:03
By:Gavin Rich
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You have to go back to the Currie Cup of 2018 to the last time the Hollywoodbets Sharks won a major trophy but they do have plenty of title winning experience in their team for Saturday’s EPCR Challenge playoff against Clermont-Auvergne.

And you can’t scoff at World Cup winning experience either, it doesn’t get bigger than that, with tight forwards Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonami, Vincent Koch and Eben Etzebeth playing in the semifinal at the Twickenham Stoop all having been part of the Springbok forward unit that won the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand in Paris last October.

Just for good measure, there are two key 2019 World Cup winners in the backline in the form of skipper Lukhanyo Am as well as wing Makazole Mapimpi, as well as a squad member from the most recent World Cup triumph, scrumhalf Grant Williams, slotting into the No 9 jersey. Another Bok scrumhalf, Jaden Hendrikse, is listed among a clutch of players not considered because of injury, the other fairly regular frontline players in that list being Coenie Oosthuizen, Curwin Bosch, Dylan Richardson and George Cronje.

So the Sharks are pretty much at full strength as they arrive at what, considering what is on the line for them, is to date their biggest match of the season. One significant change to the team that won against the Scarlets in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship last weekend is the return of Mbonambi, who sat out the game in Llanelli because of injury and only joined the squad the day after that clash.

Skipper Am reckons the Sharks are well primed for the semifinal, suggesting the two teams were like-for-like in both team make-up and playing style.

“In games like this, it is about getting the best prep and we’ve done a great deal to put ourselves in this position and once you’re in the change room it’s about having confidence in the preparation you’ve done,” said the Springbok and Sharks outside centre.

“This game is a big one for us and everyone is hyped and excited to be playing in a semifinal against a quality side like Clermont. We back our set-piece against a good Clermont set-piece and they do mix it up (well) between forwards and backs, which is the same with us. So it is definitely going to be an exciting game. With everything we’ve done in preparation, I think we’re ready,” he concluded.

Hollywoodbets Sharks team: Aphelele Fassi, Werner Kok, Lukhanyo Am (captain), Ethan Hooker, Makazole Mapimpi, Siya Masuku, Grant Williams, Phepsi Buthelezi, Vincent Tshituka, James Venter, Emile van Heerden, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche. Replacements: Fez Mbatha, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Hanro Jacobs, Gerbrandt Grobler, Jeandre Labuschagne, Cameron Wright, Boeta Chamberlain, Francois Venter.