Not all bad for Sharks as final opponents suffer record defeat

rugby13 May 2024 06:43
By:Gavin Rich
article image
Makazole Mapimpi © Gallo Images

The injury concerns over three star players were probably more calamitous for the Hollywoodbets Sharks than the defeat to Benetton that keeps them firmly rooted to the bottom part of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship log, but the Durbanites arguably had a better weekend than their opponents in the big game they play on 24 May.

Gloucester, who the Sharks play in the EPCR final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium the night before Leinster and Toulouse battle it out to be crowned the kings of Europe, were hammered 90-0 by Northampton Saints in their Gallagher Premiership fixture, conceding no less than 14 tries in the process.

Of course, there is a caveat brought about by the selection, as there invariably is these days - Gloucester coach George Skivington did make 12 changes for the game. Which can be seen as a kind of a message to the Sharks. Clearly the English team is prioritising the match against the Durban team, which explains why players such as Jonny May, Adam Hastings, Zach Mercer and Chris Harris among others didn’t play in the Premiership game.


Indeed, Skivington had subtly prepared the Gloucester fans for what to come in a press conference after his team announcement earlier in the week: “You cannot do it all and that is the decision I made and people either like it or lump it.”

Given that so many players who won’t be playing in the final were in action, it is debatable how much of a blow to morale such a massive defeat will be to Gloucester. Last year Leinster sent an academy team to South Africa to play the Vodacom Bulls in a dead rubber URC game and it didn’t make a material difference to what came after that.

However, as you’d expect, the margin of defeat has invoked the ire of the Gloucester supporters and media and there can be no denying that the club has suffered a massive dent to pride. Which of course is all that the Sharks sustained too in their narrow 25-24 defeat to Benetton, where they lost to the Jacob Umaga conversion of his own try three minutes from time.

The result meant little to the Sharks from a URC viewpoint as their race in that competition has long since been run, but it has dented the impressive statistics that were starting to build in the Sharks’ favour since their so-called turn-around - the six wins in the last seven starts that coach John Plumtree spoke about before the match now becomes six wins in eight.


Although the injuries to the three Sharks Springboks who limped off or were helped from the field in the first half, namely Eben Etzebeth, Lukhanyo Am and Vincent Koch - are not considered too serious, Plumtree might wish he hadn’t taken his Gloucester counterparts attitude and rested his top players for the Benetton game.

“It’s disappointing, I was hoping they would get to halftime and get a good 40 minutes under their belts before the final, but that’s the way it goes,” said Plumtree at the post match press conference.

“That was the frustrating thing about tonight; obviously I would’ve liked to have had no injuries, won the game and everything fell into place, but it was pretty much the total opposite. Etzebeth ran off with an HIA and the word I got from the doctors was that he failed that, but what he is complaining about now is his neck. He’s heading off to the physio room as we speak to get that treated. He had no headaches so I don’t think he’s going to be too bad.

“The physio I spoke to after the game wasn’t too concerned about Vincent’s ankle, he didn’t roll it laterally. It just hurt. He was walking now without a limp, so we’re hoping that won’t be too serious. It sounds like there’s a little part of that clavicle joint [of Am] that’s upset but again, he wasn’t too stressed.”


Still, they are disruptions that Plumtree and his team could do without as they begin preparations for Saturday’s clash with Cardiff and, more importantly, the EPCR final a week later. Fortunately for the Sharks there is again nothing on the line in the next URC game.

“We have the luxury that we don’t have to play these guys next week. Hopefully all three of them will be fine and sitting here in a fortnight’s time,” said the coach.

“It would’ve been great to win tonight and have no injuries but the reality is that didn’t happen. But we can’t afford to be too down because there’s only one massive game for us to really do something this year and we’ll turn our attention towards that. I thought at times tonight we played some pretty good rugby; when we were in their half and had the ball they looked like they couldn’t really live with us.

“Unfortunately we gave away some dumb penalties that allowed them to get the territory that they needed, and they put us under pressure because they’re a side that can hold on to the ball for long periods at a time.”

The Sharks were also disrupted, for the injured players weren’t the only ones replaced, and for the purposes of player management ahead of the final it was a very different Sharks team that played in the second half.