Round four of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship takes us to Parma in Italy, where Zebre await the Hollywoodbets Sharks in a match that both sides have attached great importance to.
Speaking ahead of the game, Hollywoodbets Sharks head coach John Plumtree admitted that the team are facing pressure to strike back this weekend as they look to end their month-long tour off on a high, and return to Durban with some confidence and vital log points.
“The two weeks in Ireland was always going to be a tough assignment for this young team I’ve got here, and we were pretty disappointed with our performance against Ospreys last week, which makes this one [against Zebre] a real must-win for us,” Plumtree admitted
Although the first three weeks haven’t produced the points the team would have liked, it was always going to be a difficult and highly challenging start to the team’s campaign, given the losses in personnel to the Rugby World Cup and injury.
As Plumtree pointed out, it’s still early days in the competition and there is much still to come, both from his team and in the tournament as a whole.
“It’s only round four, but we’d certainly like to get some points out of this game.”
Changes to the starting line-up include the return of George Cronje at eighthman. He played a starring role for the Free State Cheetahs before making the move to the coast and has been revelling in the opportunities he’s received at the Hollywoodbets Sharks this season.
“I like his continuity skills, he seems to pop up in the right places at the right time,” Plumtree explained.
“His set-piece work still needs a bit of work, but he has a lot of rugby in him. He’s an intelligent player and I’ve been very happy with him. I’m still getting to know his game and he’s really enjoying the environment here, the professionalism that we have got going is something he’s really embraced.
“Hopefully he’ll have a good one.”
Although Zebre have yet to register a win in this year’s competition, the pushed the Ospreys hard and came within four points of an away win in round two after losing by four points to Ulster in round one, also playing away.
“They’re a team that has improved and been really competitive this season,” Plumtree acknowledged.
“So they’ll definitely be targeting us, I reckon they’ll be smelling a bit of blood.”
The Hollywoodbets Sharks coach admitted that this was a game his team needs to take control of, to force their Italian opponents to be reactive, rather than dictating the way the game unfolds.
“We have to ensure that we enforce our game on them, they like to play with the ball, they like to score tries from deep, however, they do give opportunities to the opposition attack, so it’s important that we attack well.
“Hopefully we build some pressure on attack and be able to put them under a bit of pressure.”