Powerful Sharks performance sees them to Challenge Cup glory

rugby24 May 2024 21:42
By:Brenden Nel
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Players of Hollywoodbets Sharks ยฉ Gallo Images

The Hollywoodbets Sharks became the first South African team to taste success in Europe as they produced a forward masterclass to beat English side Gloucester 36-22 and claim the EPCR Challenge Cup trophy on Friday night.

With the victory, the Sharks booked themselves a place in next seasonโ€™s Investec Champions Cup and made the Vodacom United Rugby Championship playoff permutations even more complicated as only seven sides will qualify for the Champions Cup, and not eight.

But it mattered not on a night where the Sharks quality was on display, built on the back of a monster scrum that won not five, but six penalties and a forward pack that was intent on hunting down anything in a cherry and white jersey.


It may have been lost on many watching the game that this was the appetiser for the Championsโ€™ Cup final on Saturday and this was essentially the 13th placed team in the URC facing the ninth placed team in the English Premiership, but the win was sweet all the same.

It was a welcome respite for Sharks coach John Plumtree after a horror season where his side has consistently underperformed and has given those in Durban something to hope for in the new season.

And while the forwards should take most of the credit, flyhalf Siya Masuku continued to impress with a 21 point haul that edged them closer to victory with every kick.

It was hard to feel for Gloucester, who had the crowd behind them and had every advantage, but the Sharks defence ground them down and kept up the scoreboard pressure to ensure a much better victory than the scoreline suggests. Two late tries by Gloucester near the end of the game made it look a lot more respectable than the one-sided romp actually was.


But the reality of the victory will become more apparent as the days go by after the trophy flies home. Yes, this was an exceptional performance and any trophy is always welcome for any team, but the reality is that this tournament isnโ€™t close to the spectacle that the Champions Cup is.

And in reality for South African teams to have a firm claim at a place at the EPCR table, they need to do a lot better in the star-studded Champions Cup.

Still, this is a good start and a South African team claiming a EPCR trophy after the Stormers won the URC in its inaugural year will underline the fact that they are here to stay.


But back to the game, and the incredible Sharks performance it was, especially as they had to soak up some incredible initial pressure in the opening 10 minutes, conceding five penalties and a yellow card to Aphelele Fassi for repeated transgressions.

Still, they didnโ€™t allow Gloucester any points, mainly thanks to an amazing try-saving dive that saw captain Eben Etzebeth slide his knee to stop a certain Gloucester try and some equally impressive defence all round.

While down to 14 men, it was quite inconceivable that the Sharks were leading 3-0 but the reason certainly started to become apparent as the front row of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch started to work their magic and claim penalty after penalty.


Koch in particular was a popular man of the match recipient, mainly for his scrumwork, but also for his offload to a flying Phepsi Buthelezi for the opening try and then a monumental grubber to ensure possibly the first 50-22 in a top game to a prop forward.

Buthelezi took the ball at speed and then dummied with Fassi on his inside, scoring a sensational try to put the Sharks into double figures.

Two more Masuku penalties edged the Sharks into a dominant 16-3 lead at the break, with Gloucesterโ€™s only points coming from a 59 metre monster penalty by scrumhalf Caolan Englefield.

The Sharks clinical nature put them further ahead as a turnover ball was chipped over the defence by Masuku, with Fassi collecting, before the surge took them close to the line. Another long pass by the flyhalf found his fullback to finish the move as it beat four defenders and Fassi swooped in between the posts untouched.


Gloucester were given some hope by a lineout maul try to replacement Albert Tuisue but the Sharks immediately took away that hope as another dropped high ball was turned over, and Masuku sent a pinpoint kick pass to Makazole Mapimpi in the corner to score and take away the game from the English side.

Late tries by Santiago Socino and Freddie Clarke - an end to end effort which was admirable - made the scoreline look respectable, but this was a game where Gloucester were well beaten and they knew it.

But this was a night that the Sharks will remember. Once dubbed the best team never to have won a Super Rugby trophy, they now have their first major achievement under new management and have a massive basis to build going forward.

And for now, that, and the place in the Champions Cup will salvage their season. And increase their hunger going forward


GLOUCESTER - tries: Albert Tuisue, Santiago Socino, Freddie Clarke. Conversions: Adam Hastings (2). Penalty: Caolan Englefield.

HOLLYWOODBETS Sharks - tries: Phepsi Buthelezi, Aphelele Fassi, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions: Siya Masuku (3). Penalties: Masuku (5)