Late Umaga try knocks Sharks and keeps Benetton alive

rugby11 May 2024 16:26| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich

A 78th-minute try and then conversion from replacement flyhalf Jacob Umaga clinched Benetton an exciting 25-24 win over the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Durban on Saturday that keeps alive their hopes of qualifying for the Vodacom United Rugby Championship playoffs.

The result was irrelevant to the Sharks, who are out of the running in the URC and had the shadow of their crucial bid for Investec Champions Cup status by way of the EPCR Challenge Cup final in London two weeks from now hanging over them, but for the visitors getting across the line as winners will be like gold.

With a tough visit to Pretoria to face the Vodacom Bulls up next week, a defeat at Hollywoodbets Kings Park could have been a fatal blow to their challenge for the top eight spot that had looked almost certain for them earlier in the season.

For much of the way it looked like they would lose, and when the Sharks led 12-3 at the end of the first half hour it looked like they had everything in control.

But a big talking point post match will be the disruption brought about by the changes that had to be made because of injury replacements, most of them hopefully precautionary with the EPRC final in mind.


Precautionary or not, it should still have been a bit concerning to Sharks coach John Plumtree that star players Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch and Lukhanyo Am all had to leave the field in the first half.

Am’s condition was unknown but in Etzebeth’s case it appeared to be a concussion after a head knock which would suggest he should be ready to play a fortnight from now, while Koch is understood to have a minor ankle injury.

The Sharks made further planned changes at halftime, with the remaining front row Springboks Ox Nche and Bongi Mbonambi both being replaced, while Cameron Wright came on for his 50th cap in place of scrumhalf Grant Williams.

Initially it appeared the changes had galvanised the visitors, who would have spotted a much-needed opportunity to get the win they desperately need to get to a safe position in the top eight of the URC log.

Their driving maul try dotted down by hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi four minutes into the half was an ominous warning to the Sharks apart from also giving the Italian side the lead, but then up stepped Werner Kok with a brace of tries to propel the Sharks into a lead they should have been able to defend.


Kok, who is off to Ulster next season, had a bit of a nightmare first half trying to field Benetton kicks in gusty conditions but stepped up on the attack after halftime just as Benetton were coming back into the contest and starting to look possible winners.

But not long after the Sharks had conceded the lead for the first time since fullback Aphelele Fassi scored their first try in the 14th minutes, the former global Sevens star scythed through from near the Benetton 22 to score a great individualistic try that changed the momentum of the game.

That turned a three point deficit into a four point lead with Siya Masuku’s conversion and a few minutes later it was Kok again as Fassi started the attack with a brilliant take of a contestable kick.

The ball was spun wide to the right, with flanker Lappies Labuschagne providing the final little overhead pass from which Kok squeezed over down the right touchline.

Kok scored three tries in the last Sharks URC game against Scarlets in Llanelli so he’s been accumulating five pointers with impressive regularity, with that second try taking him to nine for the season in the URC.


The Sharks were given a good workout in their defensive game, with the Durbanites forced to make more tackles than their opponents, who enjoyed 59 per cent of the possession in the first half and then reasserted that dominance in the battle for the ball in the middle stages of the second half.

Murray Koster, called into the Sharks team at the last minute because of an injury to Francois Venter, was red carded in the 71st minute for a head clash, so when Benetton scored their winning try with two minutes to go they were playing against 14 men.

Generally the Sharks’ defence was good against a Benetton team that didn’t offer a huge amount on attack apart from a brilliant try in the 35th minute, their first of the match, to their 21-year-old Italy star Tomasso Menoncello.

The centre was put in a hole by a flat pass from his midfield partner Juan Ignacio Brex and he had too much pace for the Sharks cover defenders as he ran 40 metres to dot down.

That brought Benetton back into the game after it looked like the Sharks were taking control when leading 12-3, with the Sharks being impressive with their wrap around wide attack in that period.

It was a great pass from Masuku that put man of the match Aphelele Fassi into the space from which he scored the first Sharks try in the 14th minute, while the second came 10 minutes later, with flanker James Venter providing the thrust near the Benetton line that led to Nche driving over.

Masuku hit the post with that conversion and with the attempt to convert Kok’s second try and in a game of small margins that made a difference but it wasn’t a day when the result mattered all that much to the Sharks.

They have a bigger fish to fry in just under a fortnight and the biggest concern for the Durban team’s management will be the injury list after this game.


Benetton 25 - Tries: Tomasso Menoncello, Gianmarco Lucchesi and Jacob Umaga; Conversions: Leonardo Marin and Jacob Umaga; Penalties: Leonardo Marin and Jacob Umaga.

Hollywoodbets Sharks 24 - Tries: Aphelele Fassi, Ox Nche and Werner Kok 2; Conversions: Siya Masuku 2.