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Plumtree addresses Sharks dire start to the season after shock flop

By Jan De Koning
John Plumtree head coach of Sharks talks to a staff during the warming up prior to the United Rugby Championship match between Ospreys and Sharks at The Stoop on November 3, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Gaspafotos/MB Media/Getty Images)

The Sharks will return home from their four-match European tour still winless and with a solitary bonus point to show for their month-long venture at the start of the United Rugby Championship.

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The Durban-based outfit, in arguably their worst-ever start to a season, is stuck at the foot of the table – below other winless teams like the Dragons and Lions.

Their losses to Irish giants Munster (21-34) and Leinster (13-34) were almost expected – even if the margins were a touch more bloated than what the Sharks would have wanted.

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However, the past fortnight the team seemed to retrograde at an alarming rate – losing 5-19 to struggling Welsh outfit Ospreys and on Friday suffered an unsatisfactory and humiliating reverse (10-12) against the unprosperous Italian franchise Zebre.

For context, it was Zebre’s first win since April 2022 – an 18-month drought that raised questions about their legitimacy in the URC.

The Italian outfit had lost a record 28 games since that victory over Dragons and was indebted to three penalties from the boot of fullback Geronimo Prisciantelli and a further one from Jacopo Trulla.

The Sharks crossed for the only try of the game, via Cameron Wright, with Boeta Chamberlain tagging on the conversion and adding a penalty.

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The winless Sharks have also scored only six tries in the opening month and have recorded a solitary losing bonus point – courtesy of Friday’s two-point margin.

Sharks coach John Plumtree, back for a second stint with the Durban-based franchise after his previous stay from 2007 to 2012, said he was “pretty disappointed” with Friday’s result.

Describing it as a ‘tight and tough’ game, Plumtree admitted the team’s poor discipline – a red card to replacement lock Hyron Andrews (for a spear-type clear out at a ruck) and a yellow card to Aphelele Fassi (a dangerous tackle) did not help.

“A lot of our basic skill sets let us down,” Plumtree said, adding: “Losing the aerial battle was key and allowed them to dominate territory.”

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He felt his team had a ‘couple of nice moments’ on attack, but really didn’t capitalise on the opportunities that were available.

“I was proud of the effort around our goalline defence and a lot of young players really stood up physically,” he said about the outing in Parma.

However, it was the disappointment of not being able to get a win on tour that hurt most.

“We could have picked up a win or two,” Plumtree said.

“That didn’t happen.

“We are now looking forward to getting back home,” he said of hosting Connacht and Dragons in Durban – before a series of domestic derbies.

They face the Bulls in Pretoria, the Lions in Durban, the Stormers in Cape Town and Durban, before travelling to Johannesburg to face the Lions.

“We will reset,” Plumtree said of the next two months, adding: “We work hard to get some momentum going and improve.”

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