Sharks’ character and emotion underlined growth under Plumtree

rugby06 May 2024 05:40
By:Gavin Rich
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Sharks players @ Gallo images

There are plenty of work-ons before the EPCR Challenge Cup arrives on 24 May, but the raw emotion that was writ large across the entire Hollywoodbets Sharks squad at the final whistle of their exciting 32-31 semifinal win suggests one of John Plumtree’s initial missions has been completed.

One of the big question marks over the Sharks spanning back to probably the Robert du Preez era as coach has hovered around the subject of team culture and commitment to the jersey and the cause. Too often, the Sharks in the last decade have had games where they have appeared to lack passion and drive. While the right things have been said off the field, the outward message conveyed by body language hasn’t always been a good one.

When Plumtree first took over at the Sharks, he spoke of the building of a culture as one of his primary missions. It wasn’t surprising that the character shown in fighting back from a 10-point halftime deficit, and actually, it was 13 points they were trailing by a few minutes into the second half, against Clermont-Auvergne at the Stoop in London pleased Plumtree.

“They showed a lot of character,” said Plumtree in reference to his team’s great fightback from what was a dire position for them.

“At halftime, we spoke about being only 10 points down. We got good messages from our leaders. I felt if we could get our game going, playing a bit more with the ball and creating more pressure and with a bit of luck, we could pinch the game. It was a case of never giving up. This is where I want to go with this team.”

It wasn’t just the character shown in the game that was pleasing from a Sharks viewpoint but the emotion etched on the faces afterwards. Man of the match Siya Masuku, who kicked six first-half penalties to keep the Sharks in a game where they leaked three first-half tries without threatening the opposition line themselves, appeared close to tears and should be forgiven for the fact that his excitement saw him drop a swear word into the post-match interview.


Masuku is an example of something else the Sharks need to be successful - the right material. Since the flyhalf recruited from Bloemfontein during the off-season has been involved, with Curwin Bosch being the man displaced, the Sharks have been a different team from the one they were.

Plumtree is the first to admit that his distribution skills need working on, but Masuku’s willingness to play much nearer the gainline and be more of an attacking threat himself means that the players around him are much more in the game than they were. And the Sharks as a consequence have become much more of an attacking threat.

Time will tell if he is the real deal long term and Jordan Hendrikse will arrive from the Emirates Lions during the offseason to challenge him for his place, but Masuku’s first taste of the highly stressful nature of a knock-out semifinal certainly confirmed he has the required temperament. His touchline conversion of Makazole Mapimpi’s try was a high-pressure moment, with the success giving the Sharks the lead with just nine minutes to go.

“It’s great and he’s still going to get better, the skill set will improve,” Plumtree said of the flyhalf’s match-winning performance. “His passing game needs to improve and improve as an athlete.

“Siya is a lovely story. He’s played well on the big stage now. I’m just really happy for him. He’s a very humble character. He feels very honoured to be playing in the jersey. He’s making the most of his opportunity.

“He is a confident little player and his kicking has been great. When he kicks for touch he doesn’t look for 30m, he looks for 40. I love his attitude around the game and the players love him. He is riding the crest of the wave at the moment.”


The work-ons for the Sharks are big ones before they go in against Gloucester at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium towards the end of the month, but most of them come in areas where they are normally good. The defensive frailties that the French team exploited in the first half were sorted out at halftime, so the main problem area is the set piece, where the Sharks struggled to assert themselves.

“The forwards won’t be happy in that department. We have so much confidence in our scrum and our line-out and potentially that is a gift for us,” Plumtree stressed.

“We didn’t get on top in that department. It will make us work harder. We knew they are a good contesting side up front. It didn’t go all our way but it gives us something to focus on in the next game.”

The Sharks now have two home Vodacom United Rugby Championship games that they can use to work on those aspects of the game before they play for a place in next season’s Investec Champions Cup.