Gloucester star relishing locking horns with ‘good friends’ as Sharks expect ‘Test match’ in all but name

Adam Kyriacou
Ruan Ackermann will be going up against some old friends on Friday.

Ruan Ackermann will be going up against some old friends on Friday.

South African flanker Ruan Ackermann has revealed he will be locking horns with “good friends” when Gloucester face the Sharks in Friday’s Challenge Cup final.

The Pretoria-born back-row will be keen to steer the Cherry and Whites to European glory at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium against a Sharks side in a similar boat.

Both finalists have endured disastrous campaigns in the Premiership and United Rugby Championship respectively but have found a haven in the Challenge Cup.

Special game for Ackermann

And for Ackermann it’s a massive opportunity to end the season on a high against some familiar faces, with some of his Sharks friends Rugby World Cup winners.

“I am good friends with some of them, and as the season went on we were making jokes that if we kept winning and they kept winning we were going to see each other in the final,” he said.

“They have got some big names, players who have won World Cups. They will be confident.

“It has been a few years since I last played against a South African team, so on a personal note it is something I will look forward to.”

As mentioned, the Premiership has not been a source of much success for Gloucester and director of rugby George Skivington admits they made Europe a priority.

“The objective is to bring more silverware to Gloucester. You get to a final and then you have just got to throw everything at it,” he said.

“We put our eggs in the basket of going for these two cups, which is why it makes it a big week for us.

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“There is no getting away from the physicality with the Sharks. If you are not ready for that physicality battle it is going to be a long day.

“We pride ourselves on our set-piece and we work really hard on it, and so do they. It is a South African trait to have a very strong set-piece, so I expect that to be a very competitive area of the game.”

For Sharks boss, John Plumtree, it’s a similar mindset ahead of the meeting as he believes it will be a Test match in all but name against the Cherry and Whites.

“I’m expecting it to be a very physical contest,” he said. “It’s not a Test match but for us as the Hollywoodbets Sharks, it is a Test match. It’s exciting for everyone and means a lot to everyone, those who wear the Springbok jersey and those who don’t. I’m expecting to see my big players that I’ve got in this group really have massive games.”

Springboks lock Eben Etzebeth agreed as the Sharks look to back up their semi-final victory over Clermont to seal a first piece of ‘European’ silverware on Friday.

Champions Cup carrot

“We know what we need to do and we haven’t brought any new stuff. Getting the basics right and having a good kicking game is the stuff that wins finals. It’s like a Test match and we’re really excited,” he said.

“We haven’t had the best of seasons so it pretty much comes down to this game. We know we have a mountain ahead of us, but good things will come if we win this competition and become the first South African side to do it, as well as to play in the Champions Cup next year.

“There’s another team though and it will come down to who wants it more.”

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