Home Sport Up to Sharks pack to take bite out of Benetton

Up to Sharks pack to take bite out of Benetton

Sharks warm up during 2023/24 EPCR Challenge Cup rugby match agaihnst Edinburgh at Hollywoodbets Kings Park Stadium on the 13 April 2024. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix

Mike Greenaway

The most critical aspect of the Sharks’ comeback defeat of Clermont in the Challenge Cup semi-final is they managed the win despite their chief weapon misfiring.

We are talking about a World Cup-winning tight five that was outplayed by the Frenchmen, and the Sharks had to find a way to win that was not based on a rock-solid set-piece.

Usually, that is how they get on top – the likes of Bongi Mbonambi, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch and Ox Nche subdue the opposition, and the Sharks play off the forward momentum.

Assistant coach Warren Whiteley would have loved to have played behind that tight five in his days as a Springbok loose forward, but he says the dud showing from these top players forced the Sharks into finding another way.

“What was pleasing was that we won without dominating the set-piece,” the former Bok skipper said.

“We know that we need to be a lot better in that area, but we still found a way to win,” he said, ahead of Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash with Benetton in Durban (4.05pm kick-off).

“It was pleasing to see the fight and the resilience in the group,” Whiteley continued. “There has been growth not just in the rugby we are playing, but there has been growth in the connection in the group.

“It was incredible to have the experience of players like Bongi and Eben in the tough moments, and I thought Eben had a phenomenal game (in the second half). I thought he was incredible, and Siya (Masuku) pulled the strings for us, even though we weren’t having it all our way upfront.

“We know there were lots of unforced errors and some poor exits and kick-offs, and we weren’t as dominant at forward as in the past,” the forwards coach said.

“Those are areas we must improve and brush up on before the (Challenge Cup) final. That is what is good about being in two competitions – it means we have a chance to brush up on those things this weekend against a strong Benetton team.

“But collectively, the fight we showed in those last 20 to 25 minutes was just incredible. You could see that we’ve built something, even though we are honest enough to admit we are not yet the full package.”

Benetton come to Kings Park with everything to play for. They are perilously placed in eighth position on the URC table, and have to get points against the Sharks or the Bulls next week to stay in the play-off hunt.

The Italian club will give the Sharks a full go tomorrow, and that is exactly what John Plumtree’s team want as they try to polish up their game ahead of the Challenge Cup final against Gloucester in London on May 24.

“A few weeks ago we had a meeting with the entire group, meaning it wasn’t just management and coaches, but the players as well, where we decided on our goals for the rest of the season,” said Whiteley.

“We have a challenging next four weeks or so ahead of us. Plum and Neil (Powell, the director of rugby) have been chatting about that and planning, but we decided as a group several weeks ago that we had two separate missions for the remainder of the season.

“One was to reach the Challenge Cup final and win that competition; the other was to go unbeaten in all our remaining home games.

“The support for us from the Durban rugby public has been phenomenal at our home games, so those remaining three home games have become important for us. So, we are going all out to win those games.

“That’s why this game against Benetton [on Saturday] is so important for us. It is part of a separate quest.

“Yes, it will help us improve in the areas we need to improve before playing Gloucester in the final, but it is also part of a separate mission.”

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