Sharks boss laments one weakness which is stopping Europe from having the ‘best competition in the world’

Colin Newboult
John Plumtree Sharks head coach URC 2023 - PA.jpg

Sharks head coach John Plumtree.

Sharks head coach John Plumtree believes that the European competitions will be “the best in the world”, but that it will only happen if changes are made.

The Durban outfit became the first South African side to win either the Champions Cup or Challenge Cup following their move north in 2021.

They were first accepted into the continental tournaments a year later and on Friday the Sharks made history by defeating Gloucester 36-22 in the Challenge Cup final.

The inclusion of the South African sides in the northern hemisphere has generally been a positive, especially in the United Rugby Championship, but there are still some teething issues.

Biggest frustration

Plumtree’s big complaint is around the travelling and the time spent away from home, and the Sharks boss insists that it is something the governing bodies must work out going forward.

“This is not an easy competition for South African teams at all. There is a lot of travelling,” he told reporters.

“For me, it’s not high-performance right now. We’re competing well, but there are a few things that need to be ironed out in terms of levelling it up a little bit.

“This is our fourth trip up here this year and we’ve been away from home for close to three months. That’s not a level playing field, so they need to look at how they can make this competition better. I think it’s going to be the best competition in the world.

“For me, now, it’s better than Super Rugby, and I’ve been involved in that for a long time, but there are logistical things that need to be sorted out and hopefully that is in the next year or two.”

Sharks’ Springboks stars dominate as Durbanites overwhelm Gloucester to claim historic Challenge Cup title

First title

The result in London was hugely significant for the Sharks as it was their first-ever major title having failed to take the Super Rugby crown when playing in the south.

They finished runners-up on four occasions but the South African outfit finally ended their trophy hoodoo by overcoming the Cherry and Whites at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

It also ends an otherwise disappointing campaign on a massive positive. For a long time, the Durbanites resided at the bottom of the URC table but they have improved in 2024 and it culminated in their maiden title.

“At the start of the season when I came over, the team was disconnected,” Plumtree said. “The culture was poor, we had a poor environment. It took a while to sort it out. But now the team is connected, the players love each other.

“My job is to keep building. We’ve got some quality players coming in and a couple of juniors coming through. Our squad will be stronger and it will need to be because we need two strong squads to compete in the Champions Cup and the URC, because these guys can’t play 28 or 30 games a year.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there and I’m lucky that I have an owner in Marco Masotti who’s determined to make the Sharks really good again, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

READ MORE: Gloucester v Sharks: Five takeaways from the Challenge Cup final as Springboks heroes become Sharks legends