Sharks overpower Gloucester to win Challenge Cup

May 25, 2024 7:01 am

[Source: BBC]

Sharks have become the first South African side to win a European trophy as they outmuscled Gloucester 36-22 to claim the Challenge Cup title at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Fly-half Siya Masuku kicked 21 points for the Durban-based side as their Springbok-heavy forwards pack dominated across the 80 minutes.

Phepsi Buthelezi scored the only try of the first half, with Caolan Englefield kicking a sole penalty for Gloucester.

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Aphelele Fassi and Makazole Mapimpi added two more tries after the break and while the Cherry and Whites tried to mount a comeback, with Albert Tuisue, Santiago Socino and Freddie Clarke crossing, it came too late.

Victory means the Sharks will play in the Champions Cup next season, while Gloucester missed out on the chance to add to their two title wins in 2009 and 2015 on their fifth appearance in the competition’s final.

This was only Sharks’ second appearance in the Challenge Cup – having been invited last season, when they were knocked out in the round of 16.

Victory comes against the backdrop of a disappointing league campaign – they are 13th in the United Rugby Championship with one game remaining.

Gloucester, similarly, came to London after a difficult Premiership season where they finished well off the pace in ninth, and defeat will likely heap more pressure on director of rugby George Skivington before a summer review by the club board.

Still, the Cherry and Whites’ cup form has been in stark contrast to their results in the league this season and, having already won the Premiership Rugby Cup in March, they were buoyant and looking to claim their third Challenge Cup title having won every European match this season.

They started on the front foot and for the opening 10 minutes were on top for possession and pressure, but in reality that period was as good as it would get for the West Country side.

Repeated infringements from Sharks gifted Gloucester multiple line-outs right by their opponents’ try-line and, when full-back Fassi was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on scrum-half Englefield just six minutes in, the English side were handed a massive opening.

But the Cherry and Whites’ attack could not capitalise as Jonny May fumbled an Adam Hastings grubber kick into touch – both on their final appearances before leaving this summer – and then Chris Harris fell centimetres short as he stretched for the line in what should have been a try.

Sharks’ forward pack, stacked with internationals, was always likely to have the upper hand but they were devastatingly dominant and came out of the 10 minutes – a man down – 3-0 up, after a Masuku penalty from a scrum.

Santiago Carreras then dragged a penalty wide before Englefield kicked a belter from 55 metres 60 seconds later to draw Gloucester level.

Those points were as good as it got for Gloucester for most of the game as Sharks started to turn the screw. Buthelezi broke through some sloppy defending, shrugged off a Cherry and Whites player and threw a dummy in a two-on-one before running over for the only try of the first half.

The penalty count from the scrum started rapidly stacking up and Masuku kicked two more penalties, both from scrum errors, to give Sharks a healthy 16-3 lead at the break.

Skivington changed his entire front row at half-time but, while they did celebrate one massive turnover as if they had scored, the impact was short-lived.

The penalty count at the scrum continued to rack up and Masuku kicked another two in quick succession, before Mapimpi made the crucial dart to the line and Fassi dived under the posts for a second Sharks try to make it 30-3.

Replacement prop Tuisue powered over to give Gloucester fans – who came in their thousands – something to cheer about, but Mapimpi retaliated almost straight away after collecting Masuku’s kick over the top to stretch the lead again.

May looked to have set up a lovely try for Gloucester, kicking a volley on for Stephen Varney to touch down, but it was chalked off by the television match official for an offside.

And while Socino went over in space in the corner and Clarke burst down the wing to add a third, both in the final five minutes, they were mere consolations as the Sharks players popped the champagne corks on the sidelines.

Gloucester: Carreras; May, Harris, Atkinson, Thorley; Hastings, Englefield; Ford-Robinson, Blake, Balmain; Clarke, Clark; Ackermann, Ludlow (c), Mercer.

Replacements: Socino, Vivas, Gotovtsev, Tuisue, Clement, Varney, Llewellyn, Hathaway.

Sharks: Fassi; Kok, Hooker, Venter, Mapimpi; Masuku, Williams; Nche, Mbonambi, Koch; Etzebeth (c), Grobler; Venter, Tshituka, Buthelezi.

Replacements: Mbatha, Mchunu, Jacobs, Labuschagne, Richardson, Wright, Bosch, Keyter.