Springbok Eben Etzebeth’s injury adds to ‘handicapped’ Sharks’ frustrations

David Skippers
John Plumtree Sharks head coach URC 2023 - PA.jpg

Sharks head coach John Plumtree.

Despite languishing at the bottom of the United Rugby Championship (URC) standings, Sharks head coach John Plumtree believes his side can still reach the tournament’s play-offs.

The Durban-based outfit host the Stormers in their South African coastal derby on Saturday and can ill afford another defeat against the men from the Cape, who have proven to be one of the URC’s strongest teams after being crowned as champions in 2022 and finishing as runners-up last year.

Doing well in the Challenge Cup

Despite struggling in the URC, the Sharks head into this weekend’s encounter after displaying some good form in the Challenge Cup, where they have sealed a home clash against Zebre-Parma in that tournament’s round of 16.

However, Plumtree knows that a big challenge awaits them, and he wants his team to build on their Challenge Cup form and bring a similar onslaught in their URC campaign.

“We are looking for consistency in our performance to find some real confidence and belief in how we can play this game. At times, we have shown that.

“We do have a lot of URC games to play, and we feel we can still get up there on the table and hopefully qualify [for quarter-finals]. But the Challenge Cup provides a real opportunity for us.

“We’ve got a top-16 game and a quarter-final, and if we win that, we go away to play in the semi-final.

“I’m certainly hoping by April, when those games take place, I’ve got a full strength side to pick from and some competition for some places in the team. That’s what we need, and if we can get that, who knows what can happen in the season.

“It’s a long season, and I do feel I have been handicapped by having a lot of injuries.”

Springboks set for financial windfall after talks with American consortium

Full of frustration

With reference to the injuries which has hampered his team throughout the season, Plumtree admitted that it has been highly frustrating as he is constantly without the services of some of his best players, with Springbok second-row star Eben Etzebeth the latest player to be sidelined due to injury.

While they have numerous Springboks in their ranks, the Sharks have battled to gel in the URC, with their forward play particularly disappointing, and Plumtree knows they have to improve up front if they want to beat the Stormers.

“We have to be really strong in that department; we know we’ve got a really strong pack, but I haven’t been able to put that pack out in the park. We’ve got injuries to key players, and that’s been the big frustration for me,” he said.

Apart from Etzebeth, who recently had a knee operation, Plumtree revealed that five other forwards had also undergone surgery.

“It’s been pretty tough to have the depth that we needed upfront. In the future, we will get that part right.”

READ MORE: URC: Seven stars who could catch new Springbok coaching team’s eye