Sharks bring back Etzebeth for Edinburgh challenge

SIYA Masuku will again play the role of general for the Sharks against Edinburgh. | Steve Haag Sports

SIYA Masuku will again play the role of general for the Sharks against Edinburgh. | Steve Haag Sports

Published Apr 13, 2024


IF it’s not broken, why fix it? That is the mentality as the Sharks largely stuck to their winning recipe of the last couple of games, with one change in the starting side to take on Edinburgh in a European Challenge Cup quarter-final this afternoon.

In a bid to stay on track to salvage a torrid season, only Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth returns to strengthen the run-on team that needs to lay the foundation at Kings Park (1.30pm kick-off).

Head coach John Plumtree opted for continuity and is hoping they can get past a tricky Edinburgh outfit to create a little bit of South African history by becoming the first team to reach the semi-finals in European club rugby.

Although it’s in the Challenge Cup, the Sharks see this tournament as their ticket back into the top flight of Champions Cup rugby, and a victory over their Scottish visitors can take them a step closer.

The home team is on a three-match winning streak, and according to director of rugby Neil Powell, it does give them a bit of confidence.

A couple of weeks ago, Edinburgh were one of the teams the Sharks triumphed over to build this run of wins.

“If you go into a game and you lack confidence, it shows on the field. It is good for us to get that confidence back,” said Powell.

“But we also know this will be a different game to two weeks ago when we faced Edinburgh. This is a good opportunity for us. We’ve set some goals after playing the Lions, and one of them was to play in the final of the Challenge Cup.

“We know if we can get ourselves there, that day will look after itself. It makes this game important. You do have an advantage when you go into the knockouts and you play at home, but it is only an advantage if you make use of it and pitch up.

“It is not extra pressure, but a great opportunity to show what we are capable of and to go into the next step of hopefully winning and going to the semis in three weeks.”

Although the Sharks can’t fault the contribution of lock Corne Rahl, who shifts to the bench to make way for Etzebeth, the World Cup-winning lock will add extra grunt and play-off experience to the side.

On the bench, hooker Dan Jooste is the other change as he steps in for Kerron van Vuuren, with Rahl replacing veteran Gebrandt Grobler among the back-up locks.

Two Springboks on the bench – utility back Curwin Bosch and scrumhalf Grant Williams – will run out in their 100th and 50th matches for the Sharks respectively should they take the field.

“It’s good to see the confidence Curwin has back. We will look for him to build on that and give us a good performance when he comes on, whether it’s at 10 or 15. He just wants to serve the team,” said Powell.

Exciting flyhalf Siya Masuku gets another run in the starting team and plenty of the Sharks’ go-forward momentum at the back will rely on him taking the ball to the line, or spreading it down the backline, as he has for the past couple of games. His kicking boot will also be vital in the play-off.

“He is a good general and we expect more of that,” said Powell.

“He is very good in his decision-making; when to sit a bit deeper or take the line on and try to create something, like that try of Vincent Tshituka (against Zebre) showed.

“Siya (Masuku) has done well to push us in the right direction.”

Sharks Starting XV: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am (capt), 12 Ethan Hooker, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 James Venter, 5 Emile van Heerden, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche

Replacements: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Corne Rahl, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Francois Venter