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

Planet Rugby
Sharks celebrate Aphelele Fassi's try v Gloucester in the 2024 Challenge Cup final.

Sharks celebrate Aphelele Fassi's try v Gloucester in the 2024 Challenge Cup final.

The Sharks produced a brutal and efficient display to win their first major title following a 36-22 victory over Gloucester in the Challenge Cup final.

John Plumtree’s men overwhelmed their English opponents physically, with their key internationals very much to the fore.

The South African side’s struggles this season have been strange considering the talent in their side, but their big players showed up when it mattered most.

Ox Nche was particularly outstanding, dominating at the scrum and carrying hard in the loose, while Eben Etzebeth was simply everywhere.

The penalties garnered by Nche, Vincent Koch and co. in the scrum allowed the Sharks to build a 16-3 lead at the interval as Siya Masuku scored a trio of three-pointers and Phepsi Buthelezi touched down.

Gloucester quite simply did not know how to handle the power of the Durban outfit and, despite a Caolan Englefield penalty and tries for Albert Tuisue, Santiago Socino and Freddie Clarke, it was a chastening evening for the Englishmen.

With the Sharks continuing to dominate proceedings in the second period, Aphelele Fassi and Makazole Mapimpi went over – Masuku converting both and adding two more three-pointers – to seal a historic victory in the Challenge Cup.

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Although the South Africans went on to dominate, they spent the opening 10 minutes defending their line with centre Chris Harris going closest to drawing first blood only to fall inches short with an outstretched hand.

Fassi was sent to the sin-bin for offside as the South African side began to buckle but once the storm had been weathered, they advanced downfield and were off the mark through a Masuku penalty.

A monster kick by scrum-half Englefield saw Gloucester draw level but, having matched the Sharks in the physicality stakes, they then waved through number eight Buthelezi for a soft try.

Over went two more penalties from Masuku as his side took to squeezing their opponents and taking the points when they became available.

A dominant scrum early in the second-half gave Gloucester hope they could turn the tide but then as they looked to build pressure, Zach Mercer gave an intercept pass to Grant Williams to put the Sharks back on the offensive.

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Williams’ break was the prelude to another spell of Sharks ascendency that was underscored by three more penalties and a try from Fassi that was the product of a fluid attack.

Gloucester hit back with a maul try finished by Tuisue but their failure to deal with a kick opened the door for Mapimpi to gather a pinpoint Masuku chip and touch down.

Late tries from Socino and Clarke gave the English club scoreboard respectability, but it was the Sharks who celebrated a thoroughly deserved triumph.

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

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

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