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Ken Borland



Sharks have put SuperRugby epoch behind them, fully ready to embrace European competition 0

Posted on May 02, 2023 by Ken

South African rugby teams have put the SuperRugby epoch behind them and, now that they have tasted the Champions Cup tournament, are ready to fully embrace European competition, even when it takes a team like the Sharks from the subtropical summer heat of Durban one week into the icy winter of the hilly Bordeaux region the next.

The Sharks, having marked their Champions Cup debut with an impressive 39-31 win over Harlequins at Kings Park, now take on Bordeaux Begles at the Chaban Delmas Stadium on Friday night.

“It definitely met expectations and all the hype playing against Harlequins and we made a good start, even though there was a lot for us to improve on,” hooker Bongi Mbonambi said on Tuesday from France.

“And now we take on top French players at home in front of their own crowd. The big difference is we just came from 31° in Durban to 2° at the moment and it might be zero on Friday night.

“It’s a totally different kind of cold, but we are here to make memories and make sure we are totally prepared. We’re looking forward to the challenge.

“The massive learning from the Quins game was that we can never relax, these are very good teams in this competition. They’ve been playing European Cup for longer than us, and we still have a lot to learn.

“We have to embrace it, you can’t always have home advantage. But even in tough conditions and with a hostile crowd, some of us enjoy it, it’s like what we face in international rugby. Hopefully we can teach the other players to embrace it too,” Mbonambi said.

Bordeaux lost their opening Champions Cup match away to Gloucester 22-17 in a photo finish, but the fact they were 17-5 up in the final quarter will have them extra motivated to inflict some real damage on the Sharks this weekend at home.

Bordeaux have a powerful pack and a punchy backline, and the fact that their halfbacks, scrummie Maxime Lucu and pivot Matthieu Jalibert, both played off the bench against the Springboks last month, steering France to victory, is a graphic illustration of the sort of quality the Sharks are up against.

“The French teams always hurt after losing in the Champions Cup and Bordeaux have a really good squad,” Mbonambi acknowledged. “They slipped up last weekend, so this Friday will be really tough.

“They have great loose forwards and their halfbacks played in the Test, they are really good at running the whole place, they control things.

“Their pack will definitely put our attacking breakdown under pressure and we can’t let their big forwards run at us,” Mbonambi said.

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