Hopefully Sharks can make fans smile in Challenge Cup final, says John Plumtree

John Plumtree says Springboks such as Bongi Mbonambi have kept the Sharks team calm ahead of tonight’s final. Photo: BackpagePix

John Plumtree says Springboks such as Bongi Mbonambi have kept the Sharks team calm ahead of tonight’s final. Photo: BackpagePix

Published May 24, 2024


Sharks coach John Plumtree has experienced top rugby finals since his days as a flank for the Natal team that shocked Northern Transvaal in Pretoria in 1990.

The big Kiwi has won Currie Cups as a player and as a coach he has won and lost finals with the Sharks, Swansea in Wales and the Hurricanes in New Zealand.

So when he says he knows what will be important in tonight’s Challenge Cup final against Gloucester at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (9pm kick-off, SA time), you know he learnt it the hard way.

“I guess I have picked up things over my years in finals, and some of them non-negotiable if you want to give yourself the best chance of winning,” he said from London yesterday.

“The most important thing is your preparation. When you are on the pitch and something comes up that you didn’t prepare for, it is too late and can cost you dearly.

“You have to get your week right. You can’t overcook the players at training.

“You have to manage the physical and mental load carefully, and it is vital that you get your plan in place early so there is no panic later in the week as to what you are going to do.”

Plumtree said in finals he lost, it was down to not “nailing the prep”.

He said this is why the Sharks fielded a B-team against Cardiff last week and sent 20 players to London early.

— The Sharks (@SharksRugby) May 23, 2024

“We got a good head start on our prep. I feel we have ticked the right boxes and are ready to go,” he said. “I always say that the first part of the week belongs to the coaches, and then you hand it over to the players.

“The coaches can do little when it unfolds on the field. The players are going to have to fight and dig deep at times. There will be periods when they are put under pressure, and it is about how we cope with it.

“Equally important is to understand when to exert pressure on the opposition and force opportunities, and then to make sure you nail them.”

Plumtree says that captain Eben Etzebeth – he has taken over from the injured Lukhanyo Am – and fellow World Cup winners Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, Makazole Mapimpi and Ox Nche have been exceptional in leading the way.

“They have been great all week,” said Plumtree.

“They have had a hand in the strategy and the tactics we have devised for this game and are all very excited about the challenge.

“They do bring calmness with their experience of these sorts of occasions, but they also know the right time to amp up the preparation mentally.”

— The Sharks (@SharksRugby) May 23, 2024

Part of this is managing the expectations on the Sharks after a horror United Rugby Championship campaign.

“There is a lot of expectation from the fans, as well as the consortium of owners who are all ambitious and want us to do well,” Plumtree said.

“We don’t feel under pressure, but we do want to do it for them (the owners) and for our fans.

“Do we feel we are representing South Africa? Well, we are the only local team playing this weekend so we do feel we are representing the country.

“But at the same time we are not allowing that to become a pressure that might drag the guys down. I don’t want to add layers of pressure on these boys.

“But 15 000 turn up most weekends at our home ground and many other people around the world support us. There has not been much to smile about, but hopefully from tomorrow night, that will change.”

Sharks Team

15 Aphelele Fassi 14 Werner Kok 13 Ethan Hooker 12 Francois Venter 11 Makazole Mapimpi 10 Siya Masuku 9 Grant Williams 8 Phepsi Buthelezi 7 Vincent Tshituka 6 James Venter 5 Gerbrandt Grobler 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain) 3 Vincent Koch 2 Bongi Mbonambi 1 Ox Nche.

Bench: 16 Fez Mbatha 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu 18 Hanro Jacobs 19 Lappies Labuschagne 20 Dylan Richardson 21 Cameron Wright 22 Curwin Bosch 23 Eduan Keyter.