Sharks second string has chance to measure progress

rugby16 May 2024 07:27| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Cardiff might have been better off doing their pre-game analysis on the Hollywoodbets Sharks’ recent game against the Glasgow Warriors at the Scotstoun than their most recent fixture against Benetton in Durban.

Sharks defence coach Joey Mongalo has confirmed in an online press conference that the Sharks have elected to send their top players to London early to prepare for the EPCR Challenge Cup final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium the following Friday so the frontline players will not be fronting the Welsh team in the penultimate Vodacom United Rugby Championship game on Saturday.

It would have been a difficult call for Sharks head coach John Plumtree to make, but in losing in the last minutes to Benetton last week the Durbanites lost their chance of fulfilling one of their stated objectives, which was to go unbeaten in their last three remaining URC home fixtures. Of course, the injury list from that 25-24 loss would also have been a strong determining factor in Plumtree’s decision.

The Sharks did go under-strength to Glasgow two weeks before the Challenge Cup semifinal against Clermont-Auvergne, which was at the time seen by Plumtree as a chance to assess his depth while at the same time resting players who might have been fatigued from being on the rugby treadmill non-stop for several weeks.


And it is fair that the Sharks rest players, as it is in the case of Gloucester, who did it last weekend with the disastrous consequence of a record 90-0 annihilation at the hands of Northampton Saints in the Gallagher Premiership. While the three contending South African teams in the URC race for top eight spots have the European Cup weekends off, the Sharks don’t. They’ve played every week since they started a turnaround in form against Ulster on 18 March.

What the so-called second string team will be tasked with though is important - a more full strength Sharks team did beat Scarlets the week before the Challenge Cup semifinal which meant that despite their Glasgow loss, they took some winning momentum into the EPCR game. A defeat to Cardiff on Saturday wll mean the Sharks start the following Friday off two consecutive defeats.


Not that it necessarily means much if the same players aren’t involved, but Sharks defence coach Joey Mongalo, who will know the team is likely to play Cardiff well after coaching the Sharks Currie Cup side to a domestic semifinal last season, understands the importance of a win. And for several reasons that extend just beyond the here and now.

“This game will have an impact on us collectively. We are a squad together. The guys who are playing on Saturday have been an integral part of the group. They are almost the unsung heroes,” said Mongalo.

“Every week they have to prepare opposition plays and act like the opposition in order to help the usual starting line-up give the best performance they can produce on a Saturday. These guys are getting an opportunity to showcase what they have been doing in the shadows out in the light. The squad is excited. The team that is playing against Gloucester can’t wait to see, because they know the potential in these players.

“There are also spots in that team that will play against Gloucester that are still up for grabs. There will definitely be guys putting their hands up individually, but also showing they can play well enough in the system to convince people that they are worth flying to join the squad at the Lensbury Hotel.”


One of those players might be Curwin Bosch, who Plumtree said last week he expected back from injury in time to play Cardiff. Siya Masuku has advanced too far to be displaced as the starting flyhalf for the final, but Bosch can provide good cover for both the pivot position and fullback if he plays against Cardiff and does well.

Although they lost to Glasgow, the fringe players acquitted themselves well in a 21-10 defeat that was closer than that scoreline might suggest. The Scotstoun is a notoriously difficult place for teams to visit, with Glasgow boasting a strong record on their home field, and denying the current URC log leaders a try scoring bonus point was an achievement in itself.

This time it is a home game at Hollywoodbets Kings Park so Mongalo is right - the players will be eager to show the loyal Durban rugby faithful not only what they can do as individuals, but also send out the message that the future of Sharks rugby is promising.

The Sharks team for the Cardiff game will be named on Friday. The players earmarked for Challenge Cup final duty are due to fly to London on Saturday.