Hit and miss seasons for Sharks, Lions and Stormers

Sharks centre Ethan Hooker was one of the best new talents to emerge in South African rugby this season. Photo: BackpagePix

Sharks centre Ethan Hooker was one of the best new talents to emerge in South African rugby this season. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Jun 13, 2024


The Bulls are the only remaining South African team still active this season as they contest the United Rugby Championship (URC) semi-final against Leinster in Pretoria this weekend.

We took a look at how the season went for the Sharks, Lions and Stormers...

SHARKS | Mike Greenaway

Supporter disappointment meter: Moderate

Best player: Ox Nche

Best youngster: Ethan Hooker

Best match: Beating Gloucester in the Challenge Cup final

Worst match: In the first half of the URC, there was disappointment after disappointment, but rock bottom was losing 12-10 away to a Zebre side that had lost 28 games in a row.

Their season: URC log standing – 14th; P18 W4 D0 L14 PD88 Pts 50 | EPCR Challenge Cup – Champions.

The Sharks will say that you are only as good as your last game, or maybe your second-last game, which for them was the victory in London in the Challenge Cup final.

A loss to the Bulls in the URC followed a week later, but unquestionably the season ended on a high for a Sharks team that were painful to watch in the first half of the URC.

There was all manner of inquisitions into the team’s performance and even a petition launched by fans to oust the coaching staff.

But when the Sharks got their Springboks back, and the squad in general got the drift of what coach John Plumtree wanted them to do, the tide changed – and the outlook for next season is positive.

Rating: C

LIONS | Morgan Bolton

Supporter disappointment meter: High

Best player: Sanele Nohamba (I still think he is a better No 9, though)

Best youngster: Quan Horn

Best match: Beating Connacht 38-14 in Galway

Worst match: There were a few – the 25-10 loss to the Bulls at Ellis Park was disappointing but not as disappointing as the away 36-21 loss to the Ospreys a week after the win over Connacht.

Their season: URC log standing – Ninth; P18 W9 D0 L9 PD128 Pts 50 | EPCR Challenge Cup – Last-16 elimination: P5 W2 D0 L3 PD8

At first glance, the pessimist will argue that there was very little that changed in Doornfontein this season. The Lions finished ninth, the same as last season; they won the same amount of matches – nine – with five points separating the two campaigns.

They missed out on the URC play-offs by small margins as their inconsistency once again reared its sinister self.

Head coach Ivan van Rooyen and Co arguably rotated the squad a bit too much between the URC and Challenge Cup, placing all their hopes in one basket. That’s fine if you achieve your objectives but, unfortunately, they failed in that, too.

They were arguably a bit too conservative in their approach at times, and that perhaps muddled their game plan and affected their direction.

The good news is that a handful of their players have been acknowledged by the Springboks, and that will help build more confidence.

They were certainly better than their final classification, and will rue some poor performances among brilliant displays.

Rating: D+

STORMERS | Leighton Koopman

Supporter disappointment meter: Low

Best player: Ruben van Heerden (lock)

Best youngster: Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (utility back)

Best match: Defeating Leinster 42-7 in Cape Town

Worst match: You could argue that any one of their four tour matches at the start of the season was the worst, but the Stormers saved that terrible performance for the Ospreys in Cape Town, where they went down 27-21, effectively ending their chances of gaining a home quarter-final.

Their season: URC log standing – Fifth; P18 W12 D0 L6 PD120 Pts 59 | EPCR Champions Cup – Last-16 elimination: P5 W3 D0 L2 PD2

It was a season where the Stormers blew hot and cold, and another indifferent performance in the quarter-final of the URC in Glasgow ended their campaign.

The one week the Cape side would deliver a solid and entertaining performance, and the next weekend things just didn’t stick for them.

Key personnel being absent at the start of the season due to Bok commitments and injuries also played a role in their lukewarm performances at times.

That winless tour at the beginning of their season really took the wind out of their sails.

At home, they looked more comfortable and entertained their faithful supporters with some brilliant rugby.

An unexpected loss to the Ospreys, though, meant their home play-off chances took a knock. And at the Scotstoun Stadium in their first URC knockout match away from home, things came to an abrupt end.

Nevertheless, the Stormers can still look back on a season where they competed and beat a couple of top teams in the URC and Champions Cup.

With the acquisitions they made, they will continue to be one of SA’s top sides next season in both tournaments.

Rating: B-