Powerful Sharks scrum lay foundation for Challenge Cup final win over Gloucester

Sharks' wing Makazole Mapimpi dives over the line to score a try during their EPCR Challenge Cup final against Gloucester at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Sharks' wing Makazole Mapimpi dives over the line to score a try during their EPCR Challenge Cup final against Gloucester at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Published May 24, 2024


Scrum dominance proved decisive as the Sharks became the first South African side to win a major European trophy by beating Gloucester 36-22 in Friday's EPCR Challenge Cup final in London.

No 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, full-back Aphelele Fassi and wing Makazole Mapimpi all scored tries for the Sharks, with fly-half Siya Masuku landing eight of his nine goal-kicks in a 21-point haul at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

But it was South Africa prop Vincent Koch who was named man-of-the-match after anchoring the Sharks' scrum.

Victory saw the Sharks qualify for next season's elite European Champions Cup.

But defeat meant English Premiership side Gloucester failed to add to their Challenge Cup final victories of 2006 and 2015.

Both the Sharks and Gloucester were looking to put poor domestic seasons behind them.

The Sharks, despite a squad featuring several Springbok World Cup winners in skipper Eben Etzebeth, Mapimpi, Ox Nche and Koch, are languishing in 13th place in the 16-team United Rugby Championship with one round of the regular season remaining while Gloucester finished second-bottom in the English Premiership.

Gloucester, roared on by their loyal fans, dominated the opening stages.

But superb Sharks defence repelled a driving maul that threatened a try.

Gloucester's pressure, however, led to Fassi being sin-binned in the sixth minute.

Two minutes later, Gloucester almost had a try only for Chris Harris to touch down inches short of the line as the centre stretched out.

From the ensuing scrum the Sharks won a penalty and cleared their line, with Gloucester having nothing to show for all their early effort.

Instead it was the Sharks, still a man down, who opened the scoring when Masuku landed a 14th-minute penalty from a scrum.

After Argentina wing Santiago Carreras missed a penalty, scrum-half Caolan Englefield drew Gloucester level with a superb long-range effort from inside his own half in the 23rd minute.

But three minutes later the Sharks had a try when Buthelezi sprinted in from 35 metres after powering through four tackles.

Masuku converted and soon afterwards landed another penalty as the Sharks pulled clear at 13-3.

The Sharks all World Cup-winning front row then forced a fourth scrum penalty, with Masuku on target from 34 metres to leave his side 13 points ahead at the break.

Gloucester boss George Skivington changed his entire front row at half-time in a bid to shore up a creaking scrum.

But a pass intercepted by Sharks scrum-half Grant Williams created a counter-attack that allowed the South African team to lay siege to Gloucester's try-line.

Then, yet another scrum penalty allowed Masuku to nudge the Sharks further ahead at 19-3 from in front of the posts.

And that became 22-3 when Masuku landed his fifth penalty after Carreras had illegally taken Mapimpi out in the air as they challenged for a high ball.

Williams then sent in Fassi for a 55th-minute converted try.

Gloucester hit back when replacement Albert Tuisue was driven over for a try converted by Scotland fly-half Adam Hastings, only for a diving Mapimpi to cross their line following a precise kick out of hand by Masuku.

Gloucester replacement fly-half Stephen Varney's try was then disallowed for an offside in the build-up by former England wing Jonny May, making his last appearance for the club.

Santi Socino and Freddie Clarke did score tries in the closing minutes but it was too little, too late for Gloucester.