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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Ambitious Sharks and their Boks kick off Champions Cup campaign against Harlequins

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Durban — Expect the Sharks to put their recent on-and-off-the-field troubles behind them and make a big impact in their Heineken Champions Cup debut tomorrow at Hollywoodbets King Park against Harlequins, 3pm kick-off

Earlier this year, Sharks chief executive Ed Coetzee invited the media from around the country for a briefing at Kings Park. He was very clear that his team’s ambition was to win the Heineken Cup, the big money spinner in provincial rugby and also the toughest rugby competition in the world, just below Test rugby.

The Sharks’ recruitment has mostly been around ensuring they have a good shot at winning the Heineken Cup, and they have been criticised for being top heavy with Springboks because those players are not around in the United Rugby Championship, but they are certainly in force against one of the top teams in the English Premiership.

If you look at the forward pack, there are Springboks in the tight five in Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonmabi and Eben Etzebeth, and Siya Kolisi will captain the side from No 6 flank.

The fact that Kolisi has been named captain for the entire Heineken Cup and not just as a stand-in for (suspended) Thomas du Toit and injured Lukhanyo Am gives a clear indication of the Sharks’ intent in this prestigious competition.

One of the biggest weapons for the Sharks will be Etzebeth. He has played just one game for the Sharks — the URC game against the Glasgow Warriors — and he was immense and won the Man of the Match award.

The week after that the Sharks were supposed to play Ulster and they were going to unleash their full-strength team, only for illness to cause a postponement, but tomorrw we at last see will see the Sharks in full cry.

And director of rugby Neil Powell says Etzebeth is ready to rumble after having had a fortnight’s rest — the 31-year-old featured in all 13 Bok matches this year.

“We do expect that same kind of performance he delivered against the Warriors and that’s what Eben brings to this team,” said Powell.

“He sets high standards for himself and he wants to be successful in everything he does and he’s got that internal drive to be the best in the world, whether he plays in a Springbok or Sharks jersey, or when he used to play in a Stormers jersey.

“I think he’s just that type of person. Even if he hasn’t played for one match and comes back, he’s an athlete that gets back onto the field and it looks like he’s played the whole time.

“We knew that he’s had quite a lot of game time for the Boks on the November tour and that’s why we didn’t select him against Ospreys last weekend.

“We wanted to give him a bit of a breather after a long trip up to the north in November.”

@MikeGreenaway

IOL Sport

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