Eben Etzebeth takes on extra responsibility for Challenge Cup final as Gloucester boosted by returning international duo

Colin Newboult
Sharks lock Eben Etzebeth and Gloucester playmaker Santiago Carreras.

Sharks lock Eben Etzebeth and Gloucester playmaker Santiago Carreras.

Gloucester go into Friday’s Challenge Cup clash looking to win their third title when they face the Sharks, who are appearing in their first final.

The Cherry and Whites lifted the trophy in 2006 and 2015 but failed came up short in 2017 and 2018 where they finished as the runners-up to Stade Francais and Cardiff respectively.

Meanwhile, the Sharks are in just their second season of ‘European’ competition but are featuring in the Challenge Cup for the first time, reaching the showpiece event with a dramatic victory over Clermont Auvergne in the last-four.

Adam Hastings and Santiago Carreras return

There is good news for Cherry and Whites fans, with Santi Carreras included following his recovery from an appendix operation.

Up front, Jamal Ford-Robinson, Seb Blake and Fraser Balmain start in the front-row, with Freddie Clarke and Arthur Clark in the boiler house.

Lewis Ludlow captains the side in the back-row, where he’s joined by Ruan Ackermann and the player of the season Zach Mercer.

Caolan Englefield was man of the match in Gloucester’s last game out and he starts at scrum-half, with Adam Hastings playing his last game for the club outside him.

Seb Atkinson and Chris Harris line up in the midfield, with Carreras being flanked in the back three by Ollie Thorley and Jonny May, who is set for his 193rd and final appearance in Cherry and Whites.

Also set to depart in the summer, Santi Socino, is set for a last hurrah for Gloucester from the bench. Mayco Vivas, Ciaran Knight, Albert Tuisue and Jack Clement are also in reserve for the forwards.

Stephen Varney, Max Llewellyn and Josh Hathaway are set to cover the backs positions.

‘A special player’ – Eben Etzebeth insists another ‘incredible’ Siya should be hitting the headlines

Meanwhile, Eben Etzebeth will lead a strong Sharks team named to take on Gloucester in Friday night’s final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.

On this huge occasion, head coach John Plumtree has stuck with the team that defeated Clermont in the semi-final, with injuries to Jaden Hendrikse and Lukhanyo Am forcing the Springbok duo out of the game.

In the only changes to the starting XV, Gerbrandt Grobler comes in for Emile van Heerden at lock and Francois Venter moves into the inside centre position with Ethan Hooker replacing Am.

Dylan Richardson and Eduan Keyter both impressed in the last match against Cardiff and have been rewarded with a place in the matchday 23.

The teams

Gloucester: 15 Santi Carreras, 14 Jonny May, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Seb Atkinson, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Caolan Englefield, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Lewis Ludlow (c), 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Arthur Clark, 4 Freddie Clarke, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Seb Blake, 1 Jamal Ford-Robinson
Replacements: 16 Santi Socino, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Kirill Gotovtsev, 19 Albert Tuisue, 20 Jack Clement, 21 Stephen Varney, 22 Max Llewellyn, 23 Josh Hathaway

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Ethan Hooker, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 James Venter, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Lappies Labuschagne, 20 Dylan Richardson, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Eduan Keyter

Date: Friday, May 24
Venue: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London
Kick-off: 20:00 BST (19:00 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

READ MORE: ‘A special player’ – Eben Etzebeth insists another ‘incredible’ Siya should be hitting the headlines