Grobler at flank as Sharks go strong for Benetton

rugby10 May 2024 09:30| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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© Gallo Images

The need to maintain winning momentum ahead of the important final they play in a fortnight and to satisfy a quest to win all their remaining home games has prompted Hollywoodbets Sharks coach John Plumtree to go in with a close to full strength team against Benetton.

The Sharks are out of the race for a top eight place in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship but Plumtree sees the visit of Benetton, who are desperate to win as they are holding down eighth position currently and need to climb the log, as a great test for his team as they look to improve ahead of the EPCR Challenge Cup final in London on 24 May.

“It is important for us to retain momentum. We have built up a lot of continuity and a lot of confidence and we have won six of the last seven games so we feel we are building nicely and feel we have an opportunity to win silverware,” said Plumtree.

“There is a massive amount of planning behind the scenes, around travel and accommodation and stuff like that, but it is important to focus on the next job, and that is this game against Benetton. It is crucial for us to go well because we feel like we are winning some support back after a disappointing showing in the big part of the season.

“Benetton will test the areas that need testing, and I wasn’t happy with the forward performance in particular against Clermont (in the Cup semifinal) last week. The Benetton set piece is functioning well, and we weren’t good there last week and need to work on improving. They also don’t kick out much so we will be able to work on our counter-attack game and also rebuilding attack from kick receipt.

“They have a number of Italy internationals in their team too and like playing attacking rugby so they should give our defence a good workout too. They want to beat us because they want to progress up the URC log,” added the Sharks coach.


Regular loose-forward Phepsi Buthelezi is on the list of players who will sit out with injury this week. Although Plumtree is confident Buthelezi will be on the plane to London, he has taken the opportunity to give Gerbrandt Grobler, who usually plays as a lock, a chance to start at blindside flank.

“He has been a nice surprise for me with his ability to win ball, particularly from kick off. He is one of best receivers and has great hands and enjoys attack and nice skill set (for flank),” said Plumtree.

“He is mobile and ticks several boxes for a good No 7. Obviously defence will be a test as that is a big part of a blindside flank’s role. We will see how it goes. We do have Phepsi coming back and Lappies Labuschagne, who is more used to the No 7 role, is on the bench for this game.

“We just want to see if Gerbrandt playing there can add a different flavour to our team. It certainly makes our lineout stronger by giving us more options. That is a really positive aspect around that selection.”

Centre Ethan Hooker injured his ankle in the Challenge Cup semifinal and Plumtree described him as “touch and go” for the final, while lock Emile van Heerden is also unavailable this week because of injury and Plumtree says it is unlikely he will be ready for the final.

“Fortunately we have good backup at lock. We also have Curwin Bosch recovering well from his shoulder injury and we expect him back next week against Cardiff.”

Corne Rahl, who looks a future Springbok in the making, will play in Van Heerden’s place against Benetton and the youngster has a chance to nail down a place for the final.

TEAM: Aphelele Fassi, Werner Kok, Lukhanyo Am (captain), Francois Venter, Makazole Mapimpi, Siya Masuku, Grant Williams, Vincent Tshituka, Gerbrandt Grobler, James Venter, Corne Rahl, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche. Replacements: Fez Mbatha, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Hanro Jacobs, Lappies Laubschagne, Tino Mavesere, Cameron Wright, Boeta Chamberlain, Diego Appolis.