Sharks chasing European cup history

PHEPSI Buthelezi of the Sharks is tackled by Viliame Mata of Edinburgh. The sides meet in the Challenge Cup quarter-final tomorrow. | Shutterstock

PHEPSI Buthelezi of the Sharks is tackled by Viliame Mata of Edinburgh. The sides meet in the Challenge Cup quarter-final tomorrow. | Shutterstock

Published Apr 12, 2024


THE Sharks will be looking to make European history tomorrow afternoon by becoming the first South African side to reach the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup.

They play host to Edinburgh at Kings Park (kick-off 1.30pm) and will look to some of their seniors, but also the energy of certain youngsters, to fire the team into the final four.

Independent Newspapers looks at five players who could be influential in the Sharks’ performance if they are selected today.

Siya Masuku (flyhalf)

If last weekend is anything to go by, more big things can be expected from the Sharks’ pivot. In only his fourth start, he played an influential role in the 47-3 drubbing of Zebre in the round of 16 clash.

Masuku will hope he brings his A-game again, and it will be a travesty if any other flyhalf starts over him against Edinburgh.

He chipped and grubber kicked, stepped and offloaded his way through the defence to set his teammates up for tries, while adding to the tally with a near-perfect kicking display.

Vincent Tshituka (loose forward)

Edinburgh will present a very different challenge from Zebre, and the physicality of someone like Tshituka will come in handy, especially at the breakdown.

It doesn’t matter whether a full-strength or weakened Scottish side is selected, they have threats across the pack of forwards that will look to spoil the Sharks’ ball possession.

He’s also an elusive runner, and his pick-and-go, along with his support play, will be needed.

Bongi Mbonambi (hooker)

It’s going to be a test of his leadership along with the other Springboks in the Sharks’ side. They are on the cusp of achieving greatness after a not-so-good start to the season.

Yes, they have been average in the URC, but the leadership of guys such as Mbonambi pulled them through tough terrain in the Challenge Cup and they need it to have another good game.

But that doesn’t mean he will tone down on the physicality, and it will be needed tomorrow against the Scottish club.

Lukhanyo Am (outside centre)

The Sharks’ defensive organiser will have to be in top form to lead his team when it comes to halting the attacks of their opponents. Equally, some touches of magic on the attack are needed from the Springbok to get his side on the front foot and scoreboard.

It’s a high-pressure game, and his calmness as captain will have a direct impact on his teammates, especially on the younger guys who will step into unfamiliar play-off territory. He will also have to keep the referee on his toes when it comes to asking the right questions on decisions.

Phepsi Buthelezi (No 8)

The youngster will have to bring energy to the forwards and he will know just how to do that. His robust runs on carries around the fringes and his support play with the backs could be instrumental.

He’s been a regular standout in an otherwise tough season and another solid contribution by the No 8 will go a long way to enhancing his reputation.

Edinburgh rely heavily on their loose trio when it comes to the offence and getting them over the gain line, so Buthelezi and his fellow loosies must step up.

Ox Nche (loosehead)

The Bok will likely come up against a Scottish international in the scrums. He will want to work his shoulder to get the upper hand from the get-go to get his pack walking forward.

If he and the rest of the forwards can lay the platform at the scrum, it can provide a springboard for the Sharks’ attack to get going.

But knowing Nche, he will want to get in on the running with the ball, and he will be eager to carry the ball in loose play and close to the tryline to get in on the tries.