Home Sport Boks’ injuries compound Sharks’ misery of late loss to Benetton

Boks’ injuries compound Sharks’ misery of late loss to Benetton

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The Sharks controlled the game mostly and fought valiantly without some of their top players, who one by one went down during the clash.

Lukhanyo AM of the Sharks is tackled by Tommaso Menoncello of Benetton Rugby, during the United Rugby Championship 2023/24 rugby match at Hollywoodbets Kings Park Stadium on May 11 2024. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix

Leighton Koopman

A LATE red card to centre Murray Koster after an awful cleanout at a breakdown cost the Sharks victory against Benetton in Durban on Saturday.

Koster made head contact with a player after charging recklessly into a ruck, and the clash of heads led to his marching orders and opened the door for the visitors to score the winning converted try with only a couple of minutes left to play, clinching the game 25-24 in favour of the Italian side.

The visitors held out defensively in the dying seconds when a loose pass went into touch to end the game.

The Sharks controlled the game mostly and fought valiantly without some of their top players, who one by one went down during the clash.

The loss robbed the hosts of valuable momentum as they prepare for the European Challenge Cup final, and sending out their strongest side at Kings Park on Saturday could come at a huge cost.

Springboks Vincent Koch and Eben Etzebeth left the field early in the first half with injuries, while a limping captain Lukhanyo Am was added to the injury list late in the first stanza.

Koch’s injury especially, is not looking good for the home side. The tighthead prop limped off the field and down the tunnel, and if the extent of the injury is worse than it looked, he could be out for an extended period.

It could see the double World Cup winner miss the Challenge Cup final against Gloucester at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Friday, May 24.

Etzebeth went for a head injury assessment and did not return to the playing field, joining his teammates on the bench. But he walked off, and if he completes the mandatory return-to-play protocols, the imposing lock should be ready by the time the final arrives.

Etzebeth led the physical challenge of the Sharks, while Koch was strong in the scrums, and their absence was felt afterwards.

The backline also became a bit disjointed when Am left, and Benetton’s centres had some good runs due to errors on defence by the home side.

With the number of injuries happening to Springboks, it didn’t come as a surprise that head coach John Plumtree decided to withdraw hooker Bongi Mbonambi, loosehead prop Ox Nche and scrumhalf Grant Williams at half-time.

The absence of their experienced campaigners didn’t deter the home side, and they actually dished up better rugby in the second half, but they also would’ve gotten some stern words from Plumtree in the changeroom.

Even though the visitors were first to strike after half-time, which could probably be blamed on the changes the Sharks made, it was a double score in the space of 10 minutes by prolific try scorer Werner Kok that brought the Sharks to the fore.

From there, they controlled the game, only to lose their way in the closing stages.

The red card opened the door for Benetton to hit back and claim the win, and their hopes of qualifying for the URC play-offs and grabbing a Champions Cup spot for next season are still alive.

Despite having one game left before the European final, it will probably be wise for the Sharks to wrap the rest of their stars – like Player of the Match Aphelele Fassi, and wingers Makazole Mapimpi and Kok – and those substituted early, in cotton wool.

They have ample players who can deal with visiting Cardiff on Saturday in their second-last URC match of the season.

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Points scorers:

Sharks 24 (12): Tries: Werner Kok (2), Aphelele Fassi, Ox Nche. Conversions: Siya Masuku (2)

Benetton 25 (8): Tries: Tomasso Menoncello, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Jacob Umaga. Conversions: Leonardo Marin, Umaga. Penalties: Marin, Umaga

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