Boks back equates to mojo back for impressive Sharks

rugby25 November 2023 19:30
By:Gavin Rich

The Sharks finally got themselves off their duck in the wins column as they scored an initially hard fought then free scoring 69-14 win over the Dragons in their sixth round Vodacom United Rugby Championship clash at Hollywoodbets Kings Park on Saturday evening.

Sharks coach John Plumtree said in the buildup to last week’s first home game against Connacht, which the Sharks lost by one point even though they showed plenty of promise, that the game plan his team was getting used to “will lead to some team getting walloped and it will be enjoyable when that happens”.

Well after an initial workmanlike start to this game the Sharks gave Plumtree his wish as they ran in 10 tries to two consolation tries from their opponents as the Durban side lifted themselves from the bottom of the table with a high quality performance to build some much needed confidence before next week’s trip to Pretoria for the next instalment of a rivalry that has been intense ever since the epic and historic 1990 Loftus Currie Cup final.


Speaking of 1990, when Natal won their first big title off a monster scrum, and given the truth behind that old adage that a dominant scrumming performance takes you more than halfway to winning the game, there was never too much doubt that the Sharks’ drought would be broken once it was established how superior the Sharks were in that phase.

With Springbok World Cup-winner Ox Nche yet to come on as he awaited his second half call onto the field, the starting Sharks scrum was outstanding, with the front row of a fired up Ntuthuko Mchunu, hooker Fez Mbatha and veteran former Bok tighthead Coenie Oosthuizen fronting the destruction of the Dragons unit.


On a humid early summer evening in Durban, that kind of dominance was needed on a night where the conditions made the ball slippery. It was hardly conducive to Barbarians type rugby but that did not stop the Sharks from again giving vent to their new attacking intent under the John Plumtree and providing entertainment for their fans.

The Dragons too, who to be fair were always going to be outgunned once it was announced the Sharks had their backs back and a defeat was likely for them even had that not been the case, made a good fist of limited opportunities to threaten their opponents with ball in hand.

It was the first game of the season for the Sharks’ returning Boks and as anticipated it made a difference to their finishing and decision making, which is effectively where they lost a game last week against Connacht which really should have netted a positive result.


It wasn’t an omnipresent barnstorming eye-catching performance on his return from Bok behemoth Eben Etzebeth in the second row, but like his national teammate Willie le Roux did for the Bulls earlier in the day, it was he who ran over for his team’s bonus point try. That came seven minutes into the second half and was the moment when Sharks fans had it confirmed that they’d be having their first winning celebration of the URC season.

Etzebeth’s opportunity to score was presented to him by quick thinking from Bok winger Makazole Mapimpi, who took a quick tap to keep the attack going in what was the epitome of the sort of play that Plumtree is encouraging from his team.

But you can’t get the flash elements of your game right if you don’t get your basics right, and that was where the Sharks were better than they have been, including in last week’s narrow defeat to Connacht.

The Sharks' drive to victory started with a scrum penalty that was kicked by Curwin Bosch in the seventh minute, and then the Sharks showed this would be a day when they would take their scoring opportunities when the ball was spun to the right from a melee to the left of the poles and Aphelele Fassi made no mistake by crossing for his team’s first try in the 12th minute.

Next up was an excellent hand to hand attack from the Sharks, with the forwards passing the ball flat across the face of their opponents and thus creating the modicum of space the Mapimpi needed to squeeze over in the left corner for what should go down as a good team try.

Then came one moment that Plumtree probably won’t be over the moon about as Wales under-20 fullback Cai Evans was instrumental in a long-range set-phase try that started off at a lineout near the halfway line that put Dane Blacker over in the 28th minute.


Suddenly the Dragons were back in the game and the self-same Evans was nearly through for what would have been a good second try for his team but was held up by some brilliance on defence from Werner Kok. The Sharks wing not only dropped back to stop Evans in his tracks, he also executed an excellent turn-over as he got to his feet and got his hands on the ball only to be wrongly penalised by the referee.

Kok was later instrumental in saving another Dragons scoring attempt, but his offensive play will again be what he is remembered for in this game as he took an inside back flip pass from Jaden Hendrikse on the Dragons corner flag and dotted down on the stroke of halftime to take his team into a 20-7 lead.


Hollywoodbets Sharks 69 - Tries: Aphelele Fassi 2, Makazole Fassi, Werner Kok, Eben Etzebeth, Grant Williams 2, Phepsi Buthelezi, Jeandre Labuschagne and Lukhanyo Am; Conversions: Curwin Bosch 5 and Boeta Chamberlain 3; Penalty: Curwin Bosch.

Dragons 14 - Tries: Dane Blacker and Rio Dyer; Conversions: Rhodri Williams 2.