The Star Late Edition

Ox, Bongi sign on, Leinster set for Sharks


THE Irish media have set their sights firmly on Leinster achieving much grander things than beating the Sharks in the United Rugby Championsh­ip quarter-finals this weekend, but undoubtedl­y, the Irish giants will be a weary bunch when they face the Durbanites.

During a media briefing yesterday with Leinster’s Robin McBryde, the focus directed towards the assistant coach was on the team’s most recent triumph against Toulouse in the Champions Cup, and how they would build up to the final against La Rochelle at the end of May.

It would seem, then, that the encounter has been decreed a foregone conclusion, and that Saturday’s quarterfin­al at Aviva Stadium will be a mere formality.

Admittedly, the thinking is not entirely flawed. Leinster will have their full weight to bare upon an inconsiste­nt Sharks, and even their most ardent of fans will admit that even daring to hope is too much of a stretch.

Leinster, however, will surely take nothing for granted.

As was the case last season, they were considered heavy favourites to win both tournament­s, but ultimately came unstuck. The biggest upset saw the Bulls travel to Dublin for the URC semi-final and famously beat the seemingly invulnerab­le Leinster in their own backyard.

A few weeks earlier, they lost to La Rochelle in the final of the Champions

Cup, ending the season trophyless.

So it was with a measure of introspect­ion that McBryde warned against reliving that trauma.

“There are certain things that obviously hurt from last year,” McBryde said when asked how they would avoid a repeat.

“I’m talking about the end of the season following the loss to La Rochelle and in the URC. We gorged ourselves on the win against Glasgow, and then we really got caught against the Bulls.

“There are similariti­es with regards to that, where the Sharks have had a couple of weeks just preparing for this game. They are arriving early in the week on Wednesday. The Bulls stayed here for the whole week after playing up in Belfast last season.

“When we reflected on some of the lessons that we could learn from selection, did we get it right? Could we have changed more in the build-up?

“We’ve got to learn those lessons … Emotionall­y, it is going to be tough to try and get us back up, but we must get back up there. It is as simple as that. There are no excuses. We won’t be caught out again.”

Leinster will have the psychologi­cal advantage. Not only did they only lose one regular season match this season, but earlier they beat the visiting Sharks 54-34.

Neverthele­ss, McBryde warned against assuming a similar outcome.

“It will be a tough challenge on Saturday – the level of the opposition is going to be equally as tough,” he said.

“When you look at our match against them at the start of the year, it was a close enough affair. It was a very physical game. We are not expecting anything less.

“We are at the stage of the season right now where you come up against the best teams. You wouldn’t get this far if there was a weakness.

“They are big men, and it was a tough encounter. They will be well-prepared.

“They have Noel McNamara (the Sharks’ attack and backs coach) in their ranks as a coach, so he will have inside knowledge. It will make our work even harder on the weekend …

“We will take our learnings from last weekend against Toulouse, and anything we think we will have to shore up, we will do so this week and make sure we are ready for the Sharks.”

Meanwhile, the Sharks announced yesterday that Springbok front-row pair Ox Nche and Bongi Mbonambi had signed contract extensions to remain in Durban.

Nche has committed until 2025 and Mbonambi until 2026, which is a huge boost to Neil Powell’s squad following the departures of stalwart tighthead Thomas du Toit to Bath in England and captain Siya Kolisi to Racing 92 in France.

The Sharks have also grabbed the signature of another Bok tighthead for next season, Vincent Koch from Stade Francais.

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