Sharks may hold key to SA’s hopes

rugby26 February 2024 06:41| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Makazole Mapimpi © Gallo Images

The Hollywoodbets Sharks might be out of the running for a place in the sharp end of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship season but they could still play a massive role in determining the South African hopes.

With most of the top teams on the current log still set to visit South Africa in the remaining eight rounds of the competition, a Sharks team that picks up form and momentum could be just what their fellow local teams need in order to reach their specific goals.

And that counts as much for the Emirates Lions, who the Sharks face in the penultimate derby of the season (the final derbies are scheduled for the last round at the beginning of June), as it does the two teams chasing top four spots.

Ivan van Rooyen obviously won’t be wanting the Sharks to hit form this week. They desperately need to win the Johannesburg game to keep in touch with the top eight. After coming away with nothing from their most recent match against the Vodacom Bulls, the Lions are five points behind the eighth placed team, Ulster.


If Ulster win against the Dragons and the seventh placed Ospreys, also on 29 points, do the same, and the Lions lose to John Plumtree’s team, that gap is going to become quite wide. So it is D Day for the Lions on Saturday at Emirates Airlines Park, this time D Day standing for Desperation Day.

However if they manage to repeat their first round success against the Durban team, they will join the DHL Stormers and Bulls in becoming supporters of a Sharks revival, for the remaining Sharks games in March are clashes with Ulster and Edinburgh, two teams that are threats to their quest to advance to the top eight and playoff and Investec Champions Cup qualification.

Ulster and Edinburgh also play the Stormers on their trips to South Africa, so they could be in danger of losing both games, which would be a big advantage for the local challenge albeit for different reasons. While the Lions are looking for a top eight finish, the Bulls and Stormers will have a top four finish which means home advantage in the first knock-out game in their sights.

For the Stormers, a Sharks team that hits the form it should be capable of given the names on the team sheet would certainly work for them, perhaps more so than the Bulls, who know they still have the Sharks to play in the final round. The Stormers though don’t have another coastal derby in their future, so they should be happy for the Sharks to fly from now.

In fact, given that there are still only six points separating the two teams, the Stormers could also do with a Sharks win at the weekend to remove the Johannesburg team as a threat. The Lions will feel they dropped the ball a bit by not getting anything from their home game against the Bulls, particularly given how unlucky they were not to win the Loftus game between the sides.

Their next two games after the Sharks are away clashes with Connacht at a venue (The Sportsground) where no South African side has won in the URC, and then the Ospreys. Both of those teams are in the race with the Lions for top eight places, both of them are going to be hard to beat on their home fields. So the Lions need the momentum that a win over the Sharks will give them, and then hope the Sharks can do the business against Ulster and Edinburgh.


Further dates the Sharks have with teams that their South African friends will be hoping they can beat are the 19 April away clash with Glasgow Warriors, which will be a tough one for the Durbanites, the mid-May clash with Benetton and the following game against Cardiff. The Stormers of course may find themselves depending on the Sharks beating Bulls in the final round for both the purposes of another Shield title as well as possibly a top four or two spot on the final log.

Just what the Stormers will be chasing at that point of the season may depend quite heavily on what happens in the big north/south derby at Loftus at the weekend. A defeat for the Stormers won’t put them out of sight of a top four spot as they have a run of games at home to look forward to in these remaining months, but a top two spot, meaning guaranteed home advantage in the playoffs at least until the final, might then be out of their grasp.

By contrast, if the Bulls break their seven match losing sequence against their arch-rivals they will be sitting pretty on the log and with mostly home games to come after their clashes away with Leinster and the Dragons, a top two finish will be well within their sights. It’s another round of high stakes.


Munster v Zebre (Friday, 21.35)

Edinburgh v Ospreys (Friday, 21.35)

Emirates Lions v Hollywoodbets Sharks (Saturday, 15.00)

Benetton v Glasgow Warriors (Saturday, 17.00)

Vodacom Bulls v DHL Stormers (Saturday, 17.05)

Connacht v Scarlets (Saturday, 19.05)

Cardiff Rugby v Leinster (Saturday, 21.35)

Ulster v Dragons (Saturday, 21.35)