Great Sharks fightback secures their place in the final

rugby04 May 2024 14:00
By:Gavin Rich
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Sharks players celebrate @ Gallo Images

The Hollywoodbets Sharks sealed a great fightback by scoring a Makazole Mapimpi try for the ages that ultimately clinched a place in the EPCR Challenge Cup final as they overcame a spirited Clermont-Auvergne team 32-31 in a fast paced and pulsating semifinal at the Stoop on Saturday.

The Sharks were down 28-18 at halftime and looked out of it when they went three further points down early in the second half. Clermont would have thought they had the game won when Joris Jurand, their flying wing, picked up the bounce of his own kick to slide down the touchline and round near the posts.

That would have made it 38-18 and it is unlikely the Sharks would have fought back from there. But the TMO ruled what must have been a marginal knock-on and the try was not awarded. A while later there was another nervous moment for the Sharks when Jurand was knocked over by Aphelele Fassi while chasing a bouncing ball.

Fassi was carded but the referee Luke Pearce, asked to watch it again on the big screen, must have come close to awarding a penalty try. Again, it is unlikely the Sharks would have come back. But it was a game of fine margins, and the difference in the end was the kicking of new Sharks flyhalf Siya Masuku, who kept the Sharks in the game in a first half where they conceded three tries to nil but gave away six kickable penalties, all of which Masuku kicked.

As important a contribution was his conversion from the touchline of the try scored by Makazole Mapimpi with nine minutes remaining. It really was a brilliant try, with big Eben Etzebeth playing a pivotal role in it as he rose up to win a contestable kick near the halfway line and then there was some good work from Vincent Tshituka and then some good drawing of the defence by Lukhanyo Am as Mapimpi was put in at the corner. That cut the deficit to one point, it was Masuku who put his team ahead for the first time in the half with that ice-cool kick from the touchline.


There was much helter-skelter in the last minutes, with Clermont doing a lot of carrying but not able to make the easy inroads through the Sharks defensive system that they managed in the first half. A word needs to be said too of another big plus for the Sharks recently - their much-improved discipline.

Whereas earlier in the season it was the Sharks who gave away way too many penalties, that has been reversed now, and the Sharks did well to keep that discipline in those edgy last minutes as Clermont came at them with one final effort to win a game they would have thought they had almost wrapped up 40 minutes earlier.

Sound familiar? Well, it wasn’t too unlike what we saw from the Springboks when they played France in the World Cup quarterfinal in Paris on 15 October last year. That time it was the Bok ability to feed off scraps that made them able to match the France three tries with three of their own, this time it was Masuku’s boot that kept the Durbanites in it.

It was indeed the flyhalf who got the scoreboard going after less than three minutes had elapsed, but then out of nowhere came the first big warning across their bows from Clermont, who created a mismatch when they set up a back to run at Ox Nche and then exploited a too narrow defence alignment to put Jurand in for the try in the left corner.


Anthony Belleau slotted that conversion but was to miss with two kicks later that some might feel cost his team. He also missed with a drop-goal attempt. In contrast, Masuku was on the money every time he kicked for goal, and he did a lot of that in the first half.

It was Masuku’s boot that pushed the Sharks back into a 9-7 lead, but then came a Belleau penalty. Masuku then kicked one for the Sharks and the Durbanites were ahead 12-10, but then came another try to Jurand off a cross kick. At that point the Sharks defence was all over the place and it looked even more disjoined when Alex Newsome, the Clermont fullback, went over untouched. At that point, Clermont were in control, even more so when another Belleau penalty pushed their advantage to 10 points at the break.

The Sharks fightback was based around much better ball retention, although their poor lineout was still a bit doozy, and it was a 15 phase buildup that put Vincent Koch in for the try that got the Sharks back to within six points and well into the game on the hour mark.


It was a game that had everything, and Clermont might lament some missed opportunities, while the Sharks have some work to do on their set play. Their lineout malfunctioned and they unexpectedly struggled in the scrums.

But you have to credit the Sharks for their determination and their fight as they become the first South African team to contest a Cup final. And on this evidence, European Cup rugby is certainly something to be excited about. It was an enthralling game.


Hollywoodbets Sharks 32 - Tries: Vincent Koch and Makazole Mapimpi; Conversions: Siya Masuku 2; Penalties: Siya Masuku 6. Clermont-Auvergne 31 - Tries: Joris Jurand 2 and Alex Newsome; Conversions: Anthony Belleau 2; Penalties: Anthony Belleau 4.