Warren Whiteley wants Sharks to make more ‘great shifts’ against Benetton

Springbok prop Vincent Koch (centre) looks on during Sharks training as they prepare for Benetton on Saturday. Photo: BackpagePix

Springbok prop Vincent Koch (centre) looks on during Sharks training as they prepare for Benetton on Saturday. Photo: BackpagePix

Published May 9, 2024


MAINTAINING momentum and continuity, resting some key players like Eben Etzebeth and Bongi Mbonambi and fixing some areas that did not work well against Clermont are some of the ingredients of the cocktail the Sharks coaching staff have to blend together within the next two weeks.

The Durbanites will face English side Gloucester in the Challenge Cup final in London on May 24, but first there are two United Rugby Championship matches, against Benetton at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday (4.05pm kick-off) and Cardiff next weekend.

However, listening to Sharks assistant and forwards coach Warren Whiteley yesterday, the coaches have resorted to a simpler plan – to focus on using each game to get better, starting with Benetton.

“What we made clear this morning (yesterday) after we finished our review of the semi-final is that our focus is solely now on Benetton. We know we will need to do better than what we did in that semi-final. They (Benetton) played against Gloucester, so that is the best test for us,” said Whitelely.

They should do better against Benetton, the team that lost to their final opponents just last week.

The Sharks have only one mission now: to finish in the best place possible in the URC, and there is no doubt that they are going to go all-out on Saturday.

— The Sharks (@SharksRugby) May 8, 2024

“In the last two months we’ve made great shifts in our game, so again this weekend, it is an opportunity for us to keep getting better,” former Springbok captain Whiteley said.

“Benetton are a very experienced side, with a number of internationals in their team. So, it is going to be a massive test for us.

“Admittedly, against Clermont we were not at our best and we have some areas that we will definitely want to improve,” the former No 8 said.

The reality, though, is that winning the final is all that’s important for the Sharks after the poor run they’ve had in the URC this season.

Numbers clearly show that there is no way they can finish in the top eight, so to play in the lucrative Champions Cup next season, they need victory at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 24.

And with that comes an issue of squad management, like they did on the recent tour, playing the first game against Glasgow with a second-string side and bringing back the big guns in a semi-final dress rehearsal against the Scarlets a week later.

However, it is not that simple, since the Sharks have another target at hand.

“Reaching the final of the EPCR (Challenge Cup) was a goal of ours, and the other was winning all our home games. (Beating) Benetton this weekend is what we set out to do and so it still remains very important to us,” Whiteley said.

“This was not decided by us coaches or the management, but the whole group. In the URC, we still have three massive home games, starting this weekend with Benetton.

“We want to keep building some continuity. There’s still a couple of games left. It is still important to keep testing those combinations within our systems and processes, and that is what we set out to do against Benetton this weekend.”

The Sharks wrap up their URC campaign by hosting the Bulls on June 1.