All available Sharks World Cup winners to face Dragons
Hollywoodbets Sharks coach John Plumtree has called up all of his available Springbok Rugby World Cup winners for Saturday’s important home Vodacom United Rugby Championship clash with the Dragons in Durban.
Bongi Mbonambi is, of course, injured and out for possibly the rest of the season and Vincent Koch is also out for a few months. Otherwise all the other Boks will be on duty when Lukhanyo Am leads the Sharks onto the Hollywoodbets Kings Park field for the match against the Welsh team.
Am, of course, played last week in the narrow loss to Connacht and made an immediate difference but for this game, he makes the step back up to the captaincy he relinquished to Siya Kolisi a season or two ago. Kolisi is now playing in France. Francois Venter, who led the Sharks in the early games of the season remains in the team as Am’s midfield partner.
Eben Etzebeth will bring some much-needed drive to the forward pack, although the man he displaces, young Corne Rahl, does have a promising future ahead of him and will be learning off Etzebeth in his bench role this weekend. Loosehead prop Ox Nche is the one member of the Bok match-day squad from the World Cup final who will not be in the starting team, but he will bring valuable impact off the bench.
Makazole Mapimpi’s pace is reintroduced out wide while the tactical acumen of Jaden Hendrikse is back at scrumhalf, and Grant Williams, another scrumhalf, covers him from the bench and can also play wing.
A few familiar faces have returned to the Hollywoodbets Sharks 🦈🇿🇦 pic.twitter.com/xqdyQGKxTz— SuperSport Rugby (@SSRugby) November 21, 2023
In the only change not brought about by a Springbok returning, Fez Mbatha has come back as the starting hooker due to the thumb injury incurred by Dylan Richardson that required surgery. Kerron van Vuuren is also currently injured in addition to Mbonambi.
According to Plumtree, he had a meeting with the returning Boks at the start of the training week and they were all eager to get back onto the field.
“We had a meeting at 7am on Monday morning and we had a general chat about where they were both physically and mentally and they told me what it means to them to be back here after they experienced the high of winning the World Cup,” said Plumtree.
“They have been great all week, adding their experience to what we are doing and there is of course a huge amount of experience among them. It is also nice for the other players who have been battling away to see them back and to see how they are going to help us. It fills those other guys with a bit more confidence.”
Having not played for the side for a while, the returnees might take a while to settle into the Sharks’ systems, particularly as under Plumtree they have started out on a new path of up-tempo, ball-in-hand rugby.
“I expect them to be a lot better next week (when we play the Bulls at Loftus) than this week,” said the coach.
“There will be a bedding-in period for them, but hopefully that won’t take them too long. They have trained well but as they haven’t played for a while there will be some nervousness around their lungs.”
Asked in an online press conference if it was hard to leave out Aphiwe Dyantyi, who has been good for the Sharks since his return from a four-year absence from the field, Plumtree said that Dyantyi had a slight ankle injury anyway but that it was good to have selection headaches for a change.
“When you bring quality players back in it will always be at the expense of others but it is still a long season ahead of us. Aphiwe has really been good since he returned, though a little rusty in some departments. He has so much rugby in him in terms of his skill levels and what he can bring. But it is nice to have selection problems again. I haven’t felt like that in the last few weeks.”
HOLLYWOODBETS SHARKS TEAM: Aphelele Fassi, Werner Kok, Lukhanyo Am (captain), Francois Venter, Makazole Mapimpi, Curwin Bosch, Jaden Hendrikse, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Phepsi Buthelezi, James Venter, Emile van Heerden, Eben Etzebeth, Coenie Oosthuizen, Fez Mbatha, Ntuthuko Mchunu. Replacements: Daniel Jooste, Ox Nche, Hanro Jacobs, Corne Rahl, Jeandre Labuschagne, Grant Williams, Boeta Chamberlain, Rohan Janse van Rensburg.