Ex-Springbok captain: Sharks ‘on the same level’ as Leinster and Toulouse

Jared Wright
Bobby Skinstad and the Sharks players lifting the Challenge Cup trophy.

Ex-Springboks captain Bobby Skinstad has praised the Sharks' performance in the Challenge Cup.

Former Springboks skipper Bobby Skinstad has hailed the performance of the Sharks in their Challenge Cup final victory over Gloucester.

Despite a poor season in the United Rugby Championship, the Sharks reached the Challenge Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

John Plumtree’s side delivered a marvellous performance on the night defeating Gloucester 36-22, becoming the first South African team to win an EPCR competition which has earned them a place in the Investec Champions Cup next season.

Same level as Toulouse and Leinster

With a round of action left in the URC, the Sharks are unable to make the playoffs, as they can only finish between the 12th and 14th, depending on the weekend’s results.

“It was a magnificent performance, they were almost flawless,” Skinstad said of his former team during a URC round table.

“Their individuals really came to the party. I was very pleased for them. They delivered the performance when it was needed at the right time.

“After a difficult season, they will be really pleased with what they have been able to achieve.

“It means, despite all the losses in the league and the negativity around that, they are able to leapfrog into the Champions Cup. So they will be delighted and I bet you they will be very competitive at that level.”

The Sharks struggled in the early stages of this season’s URC but pulled things together for their run in the Challenge Cup.

The likes of Siya Masuku, Grant Williams, Eben Etzebeth, Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Player of the Match Vincent Koch shone for the Durbanites on Friday evening as they have done through the latter stages of their season.

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Following the Sharks’ success, Leinster and Toulouse collided in an epic Investec Champions Cup final on Saturday and Skinstad believes that his former side performed on par with the EPCR’s premier tournament finalists.

“If you look at the two finals on the weekend, I feel the Sharks, Leinster and Toulouse were on the same level,” he added.

“That’s got to be positive for the Sharks. They will feel they can be competitive home and away.”

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First South African team to lift an EPCR trophy

The Sharks’ performance despite the travel difficulties that Plumtree highlighted after the final is proof to Skinstad that South African teams belong in the EPCR and URC despite their detractors.

“I think it’s fantastic and I am delighted,” he said of the historic nature of the Sharks winning their first international competition.

“I have been an advocate for South Africa’s participation in these leagues for a long time.

“I have spoken before about how good it was for the Stormers to get to the top end of URC. Winning an EPCR tournament is one level up again.

“It’s fantastic kudos to the Sharks to be the first South African team to do that. I think it’s an amazing achievement.

“It just absolutely proves the competition model that’s being tried is on its way to being one that is the best for all the teams that are participating.

“I love it. If the South African teams can compete at that level of EPCR rugby in general, we might have to change that name of just European rugby. It might have to be something to do with the hemispheres.”

He continued: “I have seen some completely unfounded comments about ‘Send the South Africans back to where they came from’.

“I think South Africa brings a lot to the table. It brings good, big, difficult matches.

“We are outsiders, we are latecomers, we are Johnny Come Latelys in these tournaments. But, do you know what, we just won one of them and we have won the URC already and been in the final. So I think we deserve our position.”

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