‘How can English teams compete?’ – Jonny May calls Sharks’ spending power ‘a joke’ after Challenge Cup final humbling

Colin Newboult
Jonny May tackling Mazakole Mapimpi during the 2024 Challenge Cup final.

Jonny May tackling Mazakole Mapimpi during the 2024 Challenge Cup final.

Former England and Gloucester wing Jonny May believes that Premiership sides are automatically handicapped when they face off with the juggernauts in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.

The 34-year-old was part of a Cherry and Whites team that was hammered by the Sharks in the final of Europe’s second-tier competition.

John Plumtree’s men secured a dominant 36-22 triumph at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to lift their first major title.

Their side contained an all-Springboks front-row in Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch, while at lock Eben Etzebeth also had a stunning game.

Forward dominance

The South Africans unsurprisingly dominated up front considering the talent they had, with their defence and scrum particularly strong last Friday.

A day after the Sharks beat Gloucester, Leinster and Toulouse went head-to-head in the Champions Cup – two outfits that have significantly more financial muscle than the English teams.

May therefore questioned how the sides in the Premiership can realistically challenge those squads on the continent.

“How do the English teams compete with the Irish teams, the URC teams with no salary cap or the French teams? That’s the sort of elephant in the room,” he said on The Good, The Bad and The Rugby podcast.

“How is it that the English teams are going to compete with clubs who are spending three times the amount on their squad?

“The team that Gloucester had out at the weekend – and we tried our best – their team financially must have been three or four times more expensive than our team.

“They were much the better team on the day. They showed up and, although we gave it a go, we couldn’t really get in the game, just because they had much more internationals and higher quality players it felt like.

“It comes down to money. It’s a South Africa pack, it’s a joke.”

May felt that there was a size difference between the teams in the Challenge Cup final, but also admitted that Gloucester faltered in a number of other areas.

How Premiership clubs’ compare to South Africa’s ‘joke’ spending power

‘Wheel of doom’

“They gave us a bit of a way in (early on) but we just couldn’t get over. I always think five metres out, it’s just a bit of a power game then, you need some big boppers to bundle over. Their boppers, they just had much bigger ones,” he said.

“I’ve seen it before, when the scrum goes like that, it’s no scrum, no game, it’s so tough.

“We definitely needed to get outside their forwards. One way of doing that is getting good delivery from the scrum. As soon as they got (on top), all our strike moves went out of the window.

“Looking at our lineout menu, maybe we would have done that a bit differently because we’re very set-piece focused.

“We couldn’t get our scrum launches going, the lineout plays we did probably go into the teeth of them too much and then obviously the other source of possession is your kick return.

“We have what you call a ‘net’ at Gloucester, other teams call it a ‘glove’ – it’s that protection of the catcher – and (Makazole) Mapimpi was just p***ing through.

“It was that bad from us. It was not good enough from the players because we practised that and we couldn’t execute.

“It creates crumbs, knock-ons and more scrums… and it’s just a wheel of doom.”

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