Plumtree hopeful his selection will have positive spinoff

rugby18 April 2024 13:40
By:Gavin Rich
article image
John Plumtree © Gallo Images

The need to rest players so they are fresh for their EPCR Challenge Cup semifinal was what motivated John Plumtree to change up his team for Friday night’s game in Glasgow but there could be further positive spinoffs down the line for the Hollywoodbets Sharks.

The Sharks are not in the running for a top eight spot in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship so although they’d like to retain some semblance of the momentum they have picked up with four successive wins, victory isn’t the be all and end all in this game that it will be on 4 May at The Stoop in London.

On that day the Harlequins’ home ground will be their temporary home venue as they host Clermont-Auvergn in a game the Sharks must win to stand any chance of qualification for next year’s Investec Champions Cup.

With the other route through the URC no longer open to them, winning the Challenge Cup will be the Sharks’ ticket into the more elite of the two EPCR Cup competitions next season.

With another URC game against Scarlets next week in Llanelli and the Challenge Cup semifinal a week later, the Sharks are in position to build a good platform for the London game, by which time they will be three matches into their tour and well acclimatised to northern hemisphere conditions.

With the Scarlets game on a Friday night, they will also have plenty of time to get to London to get acquainted with the venue as they will have an eight day turnaround.


The likes of Ox Nche, Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonambi, Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am, Aphelele Fassi and others are expected to fly out next week to the northern hemisphere and most of them should be in action against the Scarlets as Plumtree seeks the winning momentum he believes will be helpful for the playoff fixture.

But while the players who play against the Glasgow Warriors at the Scotstoun on Friday are essentially filling a stop-gap role, and the Warriors are certainly good enough to make this a painful experience for the Sharks, there could be unforeseen gains when next season’s URC starts when the Sharks’ Springboks are likely to be away playing in the Rugby Championship.

Young Nick Hatton is a No 8 who came up through the age-groups (he’s also a fine cricketer) and was schooled in KZN (Hilton and DPHS).

He will get his first chance at this level at the Scotstoun, and Zimbabwean openside flanker Tino Mavesere hasn’t played much for the Sharks, but otherwise most of the players would have been part of the Sharks squad that started the Plumtree tenure with a URC tour last October/November.

Given what came later, the Sharks weren’t that bad in their incredibly tough start to the campaign with away games against Munster and Leinster, the URC champions from last season and the log winners respectively, and it won’t harm them to get experience of playing the current second placed team in their own backyard.

“If you look at guys like Hanro Jacobs, (Ntuthuko) Mchunu and Corne Rahl, they are a bit more experienced now than when we came out here five or six months ago to play those really tought games,” said Plumtree.

“Obviously Gerbrandt Grobler, who gets his chance after missing out on selection to the match 23 for the last few weeks, is an experienced player who has been based overseas before, but our front row and Corne have been on a sharp learning curve. If you look at Lappies Labuschagne, I believe he is a better rugby player than he was five months ago.

“So getting to see the guys who are outside of the team when the Boks are firing will be good, remembering of course that you do need depth in the URC because we don’t always have our Boks. This game will give me an idea if these boys have got a bit better without the Springboks we have at the Sharks around them.”


And while he knows it will be tough, Plumtree is excited about seeing his mixture of experience and youth take on the challenge posed by Glasgow.

“There have been a lot of changes and we are playing one of the best sides in the competition on their home field. It will be a massive challenge, but I am looking forward to seeing how these guys go,” said the coach.

“It has been a nice buildup to the game. We had a long journey to get here, but we have had a good week and it is just going to be interesting to see how we get on. I can tell you the players are all excited even though we know it is going to be quite a challenge for us.

“The players we have left in Durban have had big workloads in the last four games. Eben Etzebeth is an example of someone who has had a massive workload, especially with the Boks. It is important for us to manage him, and he is also an older athlete. We are also playing this game on a 5G surface, which is harder on the limbs.

“So we made the decision to give those boys extra time to freshen up and work on their conditioning. We know Eben is recovering from a rib injury and this extra week will give him more time to feel better. We feel it is the right decision for us and the players. Aphelele Fassi, James Venter and other players we have left behind have all had big work loads.

“And many of the players who will be playing against Glasgow haven’t played in a while. I am looking forward to seeing how some of these guys go in a tough environment here in Glasgow against a real quality team.”


Plumtree added that there were some players who’d be pushing for a place in the team to play Scarlets next week and then beyond that the Cup final.

“We want them to push for a place in the team. Over the past few weeks I have tried to create competition and some guys are pushing hard for a starting spot. I am thinking of Curwin (Bosch) at No 10, Grant (Williams) at 9, and Francois Venter being back in the starting midfield. Lappies is pushing for a pace, so is Grobler. We want guys to be working hard so they can put pressure on me for my selection for the Scarlets game next week and beyond that.”