URC still holds value for Sharks as they chase Challenge Cup glory

Young Sharks lock Corné Rahl, seen here carrying the ball up strongly against Leinster, has impressed Bongi Mbonambi this season. Photo: BackpagePix

Young Sharks lock Corné Rahl, seen here carrying the ball up strongly against Leinster, has impressed Bongi Mbonambi this season. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Apr 11, 2024


With the Sharks focusing most of their attention on the European Challenge Cup, it’s perhaps the perfect opportunity for coach John Plumtree to throw caution to the wind in the United Rugby Championship with some of his promising youngsters.

In the absence of some of his stars, these fresh-faced players have put their hand up for more opportunities in the side.

Seeing that there are only a handful of URC games left, it can be a perfect platform to give them more experience ahead of next season.

The likes of flyhalf Siya Masuku, centre Ethan Hooker and lock Corné Rahl are names that come to mind who have been standing their ground in the senior squad.

Hooker is definitely ready to step up in the midfield and Masuku at No 10 as both have been sensational in the games they have played.

Rahl is equally adept as a No 4 or No 5 lock, and has deputised well in the absence of Eben Etzebeth and some of the other senior second-rowers.

Then there’s another exciting midfielder, Diego Appollis, utility backs Marnus Potgieter and Nevaldo Fleurs, and loose forward Tino Mavesere, who’s also had a taste of senior rugby but is still looking for regular game time.

With the Sharks all but out of the URC, it’s maybe time for Plumtree to look beyond his seniors while they focus on winning the Challenge Cup over the next few weeks, and call on these players to make a name for themselves in the URC.

They’ve got nothing to lose in the competition, and next Friday’s away game in Glasgow will be a short turnaround for the stars playing this Saturday in the Challenge Cup quarter-final against Edinburgh at Kings Park (1.30pm kick-off).

— EPCR Challenge Cup (@ChallengeCup_) April 7, 2024

Glasgow will be a perfect opportunity for Plumtree to throw some youngsters in the mix, and have them experience the challenge of playing the top Scottish club in European conditions.

It will only be for the betterment of the squad if they are roped in more often.

Veteran hooker Bongi Mbonambi said this week it’s great seeing the youngsters coming through, because the senior players won’t be around forever. There’s also the fact that the Rugby Championship ends about a week before the new URC season starts later this year.

So, the Sharks will most likely be without their top Springboks then and towards the end of the year, when the world champions will take on Europe during their yearly Autumn Nations Series.

“The more depth you have in these competitions, the better you will do,” Mbonambi said.

“The way the Sharks are going about it, making sure they play those junior players and expose them to big games, you only get better once you play in them.

“I’m very happy to see young guys like Ethan Hooker and Corné Rahl putting their hands up because, at the end of the day, some of us aren’t going to play rugby for that long. You can’t play rugby forever.

“They want to play at a high level and make sure the Sharks perform well.”

If the senior players keep fighting the Challenge Cup battle and win the trophy, it will get them into the Champions Cup next season.

And if Plumtree continues to expose the youngsters, by next year they will be ready to make the step up to Europe’s elite club rugby tournament.