Sharks look to continue winning momentum

RHYNO Smith returns for a visit at The Tank with Benetton as the Sharks look to use them to build momentum fr the May 24 final. | BackpagePix

RHYNO Smith returns for a visit at The Tank with Benetton as the Sharks look to use them to build momentum fr the May 24 final. | BackpagePix

Published May 8, 2024


ALTHOUGH they have virtually nothing to play for but winning momentum and pride in the United Rugby Championship (URC), the Sharks should expect a hurting Benetton to pitch up on Saturday for their match in Durban.

The King’s Park side is riding a wave of European Challenge Cup success and will bank on that momentum when they face the Italians, whose campaign in Europe ended in a bust after falling to Gloucester in the semi-finals.

The Sharks, currently 13th in the championship, will face the English Premiership club later this month in the Challenge Cup finals, and could kill two birds with one stone by analysing this past weekend’s clash that Benetton was involved in.

It could prepare them for what the Treviso-based side will possibly throw at them on Saturday (kick-off 4.05pm) and, at the same time, gain a bit of insight into what can be expected from Gloucester in the final at Tottenham Hotspur stadium on May 24.

With Benetton out of European contention, it will also allow them to set their sights fully on competing for a top-eight spot in the championship.

Although they currently hold the eighth position on the URC points table, the Durban game and the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld next weekend could spell the death of their aspirations to reach the knockouts should they lose.

They will be desperate to win at least one of their clashes on this South African tour to stay in the hunt for the top eight. A play-off spot will also mean Champions Cup rugby next season.

That’s why it will be important to hit their straps this weekend against a resurgent Sharks, who will look to continue their winning momentum at home. The home team has only won four URC clashes but can still be a kingmaker to a handful of sides.

Benetton selected a 32-man squad that arrived in Durban yesterday before the clash and players like the three South Africans Eli Snyman, their co-captain and veteran scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage, and utility back Rhyno Smith, alongside prop Simone Ferrari, loose forwards Sebastian Negri and Alessandro Izekor, and flyhalf Jacob Umaga, will be tasked to take the lead.

Smith is a former Sharks player and will look forward to returning to Durban, while Duvenage has tormented the coastal side for several years as Stormers scrumhalf before he made the move overseas. A big blow to the side and their chances of winning is the absence of internationals like centre Malakai Fekitoa, prop Thomas Gallo, lock Marco Lazzaroni and veteran front-rower Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.

They used the rolling maul effectively against Gloucester, and it could be a handy weapon in Durban on Saturday. The Sharks haven’t been that effective in their rolling maul defence, and judging from this weekend’s clashes, Benetton will likely look to this route to get over the try line. But, the speed of Smith and winger Onisi Ratave could also pose some questions to their opponent’s defensive line.

Challenges against difficult opponents are what Sharks head coach John Plumtree will want for his team at this stage so that they can find solutions on-field that could best prepare them for the Gloucester clash.

The Italians are fighting for survival in the URC and the next two games could make or break their season. It’s a challenge the home team will welcome as they look to build momentum over the next two weekends of home games.