Plumtree relying on experience of Bok World Cup winners

rugby23 May 2024 13:58
By:Gavin Rich

Hollywoodbets Sharks coach John Plumtree feels his work has been done and now he is standing back so the leaders in the team can step forward and ensure they and their teammates are mentally ready for Friday night’s EPCR Challenge Cup final against Gloucester.

After making the decision to rest 20 players for last week’s “dead rubber” Vodacom United Rugby Championship clash with Cardiff, Plumtree had the whole of last week in Durban to go through strategy and the preparation needed for the Gloucester game, thus ensuring he did not need to drive the players hard once they got to London ahead of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium clash.

In particular, with the pressure of a final being different to what players experience in other games, he has relied quite heavily on the experience of big games that his several World Cup winners bring to the Sharks’ challenge.

“They have been very important, in fact they have been great all week,” said Plumtree in his team announcement press conference in London.

“They have had a hand in the strategy and the tactics we have devised for this game and they are all very excited about the challenge. They do bring calmness with their experience of these sorts of occasions but they also when the time comes will play a leading role in amping up the preparation mentally.

“The World Cup winners have been there and done that over the years but we will need all 23 players to be on the same page if we want to win,” he added.


The Stormers’ Super Rugby final against the Vodacom Bulls at Orlando Stadium was in 2010, two years before Eben Etzebeth started to play for the franchise, so the Springbok lock and reigning South African Rugby Player of the Year reckons this is the biggest club/franchise game he has been involved in.

“This is not international level obviously, but at club level it is the most important game I have played. I never to a final with the Stormers,” said Etzebeth.

“Yes, I did play in a Currie Cup final but that is not as important. We all know the big final (Leinster against Toulouse in the Champions Cup final) is on Saturday but for us this is big.”


Etzebeth will lead the Sharks in the absence of the injured Lukhanyo Am and what makes it big for him is what it will bring the Sharks if they win they win the trophy - they will join the Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers and possibly the Emirates Lions, who have an outside chance of qualifying, in next season’s elite Champions Cup.

“It is a big game for us as it has not been the best of seasons for the Sharks and because of that it all comes down to this game,” said the Springbok lock.

“We have not done well in the URC so this is the game we need to win. We would have taken a place in the Champions Cup if we were offered that outcome earlier in the season. But while everyone is talking about us making history by becoming the first South African team to win a European trophy, there is a quality team on the other side who also want to win. It will come down to which team wants it more.

“It is a final and in terms of the type of rugby played it will be like a test match, like our semifinal (against Clermont-Auvergne) was,” he added.


The Sharks showed great fighting spirit in that game and both Etzebeth and Plumtree referenced that as an area of huge growth for the team in the latter stages of what has been a really difficult season.

“We showed in that game that we don’t give up when the chips are down and that’s what I want from the boys, I want them to be a team that never gives up. We haven’t had the best of seasons but we targeted this competition quite a while ago,” said Plumtree.

“There is a lot of expectation from the fans, as well as the consortium of owners who are all ambitious and want us to do well. We don’t feel under pressure but what we do want to do is do it for them (the owners) and for our fans. Do we feel we are representing South Africa? Well, we are the only local team playing this weekend so we do feel we are representing the country.

“But at the same time we are not allowing that to become a pressure that might drag the guys down. I don’t want to add layers of pressure on these boys. But 15 000 turn up most weekends at our home ground and lots of other people around the world support us. There has not been a lot to smile about but hopefully from tomorrow night they will have something to smile about.”

Etzebeth added that it was important not be over hyped or “over psyched”.

“We know what is at stake,” said Etzebeth. “How much would it mean for the club? Yes, from where we came from earlier in the season it would mean a lot. It had become a foul place at the Sharks, so to come from there and now have a chance to win silverware is big. For the coaches and the players what is key is that we show the same spirit that was shown in the semifinal.”

HOLLYWOODBETS SHARKS TEAM: Aphelele Fassi, Werner Kok, Ethan Hooker, Francois Venter, Makazole Mapimpi, Siya Masuku, Grant Williams, Phepsi Buthelezi, Vincent Tshituka, James Venter, Gerbrandt Grobler, Eben Etzebeth (captain), Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche.

Replacements: Fez Mbatha, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Hanro Jacobs, Lappies Labuschagne, Dylan Richardson, Cameron Wright, Curwin Bosch, Eduan Keyter.