Gloucester v Sharks: Five takeaways from the Challenge Cup final as Springboks heroes become Sharks legends

Dylan Coetzee
Sharks lift Challenge Cup trophy.

Sharks lift Challenge Cup trophy.

Following the Sharks’ stunning 36-22 win over Gloucester to claim the Challenge Cup title, here are our five takeaways from the clash at the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium.

Top line

The game began at a frantic pace with Gloucester desperate to get the jump on the Sharks in the opening minutes. In fairness, they did catch the Durbanites slightly cold but failed to make it count enough on the scoreboard.

The Sharks did well not to panic and take their time to feel their way into the game and, once the South Africans had a foothold through their scrum, the great squeeze began. Through their forward dominance, especially in the set-piece, the Sharks ticked over the scoreboard consistently with Siya Masuku turning the knife with each penalty.

Gloucester tried to change the picture with a full front-row change at the break but ultimately it didn’t bear fruit with the Sharks growing in confidence with each minute. As the Englishmen pushed harder to find their way over the line, it just played further and further into the South Africans’ hands.

The Sharks made history with their maiden title and became the first South Africans to win a European competition. It is richly deserved.

Springboks front-row shows its teeth

Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch. As soon as those three were named in the line-up, the writing was on the wall. Three world-class players who have all won Rugby World Cups, what more could the Sharks want?

In truth, the opening period was a bit concerning for the Sharks, especially for a team that has had a tough season. Sometimes slow starts in big games like that can rattle sides but that was not the case here.

As soon as they won a penalty in the first scrum they began to grow into the game and, as mentioned in the preview, they bankrolled the scoreboard with the set-piece. When a scrum is consistently destroying their opponent as it was on Friday evening, it not only gives the side penalties to work with but also loads those big men up with confidence in the collision.

Once that pack was purring the Sharks buried Gloucester. Finally, and we really mean finally, those superpowered Springbok heroes in the Sharks ranks came to the fore and became legends in Durban.

Sharks player ratings: Springboks front-row buries Gloucester as silky Siya Masuku bags 21 points on historic night

It’s time to talk about Siya Masuku

He has been all over our weekly selection feature ‘Bokrometer’ and he will be again. Masuku’s rise is a story of sporting dreams as he was given a chance to have a run earlier in the season and has almost single-handedly taken this team to the title.

The fly-half offered reliability through his composed decision-making and goal-kicking, allowing players around him to settle and make better decisions of their own. As a result, there is a direct correlation between his introduction and the Sharks’ resurgence.

Suddenly, he was firmly in the public eye with the next test for him being big match temperament. After his flawless kicking effort in the semi-final was backed up by his control and accuracy in the final, there are no more questions to be answered around his quality.

It could well be time to see Masuku in green and gold.

Box-kicking clinic

Finals in rugby are often cagey as the two teams look to avoid making errors and that was the case in this one. What comes with that kind of game is the elevated importance of kicking. In this final in particular, the box-kicking battle was another area that separated the sides. 

Grant Williams was absolutely magnificent when kicking from the base. The hang-time on his efforts, coupled with the placement, whether just outside the 22 or nearing the touchline, made it difficult to deal with, especially when Makazole Mapimpi was tearing down on the receiver. 

By contrast, Caolan Englefield was off the mark, with many of his box-kicks travelling far too deep and making it easy for the Sharks’ back three to make the mark or simply clear it. It improved in the second period but by then the Sharks not only dominated the aerial battle but also territory. 

In a straight duel Williams was the winner and he played a key role in keeping the Sharks in the right areas of the field. 

Points mean everything 

The heading may seem oversimplified or obvious but in finals rugby that is exactly the case; points mean everything. Gloucester were perhaps victims of this in the opening period. They ticked their first box by starting hot and immediately putting the Sharks under pressure. However, despite being in a very kickable location with a penalty after just a few minutes, the Premiership side turned the points down and went for the corner. 

The idea was to build pressure and maybe force a yellow card, which they did but, and it’s a big but, they did not get any points out of it. In fact, the Sharks opened their account with a three-pointer during that yellow card period

Perhaps Gloucester should have opted to get something on the board instead. If you had asked George Skivington if he would accept 3-0 up after three minutes, he would have certainly taken it. The scoreboard pressure had a better chance at sparking doubt in the Sharks’ minds. 

Instead, the Durbanites found their way into the game by doing the opposite and taking the points on more occasions than not. Masuku ended up kicking 15 points with penalties and removing that from the final score meant they would have been short of Gloucester’s final total. 

Now, of course, it is not that simple but the bottom line is that the Sharks went for points and it paid off because scoreboard pressure is critical in knockout rugby. 

READ MORE: Sharks’ Springboks stars dominate as Durbanites overwhelm Gloucester to claim historic Challenge Cup title