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European Challenge Cup

European Challenge Cup Final Prediction – Gloucester v Sharks

London and history are calling the Sharks as they go up against Gloucester in the European Challenge Cup final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

European Challenge Cup Final

London and history are calling the Sharks as they go up against Gloucester in the European Challenge Cup final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Friday (21:00 kick-off SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

The heat will be on in a big way under the Friday Night lights of London. The historic decider is truly all or nothing for the Sharks. Win, and they selvedge what in the bigger scheme of things has been a disappointing first season for the Durbanites under John Plumtree as they languish in 13th position in the United Rugby Championship.

Win, and they etch their name in history as the first South African side to claim a European title. Win, and they earn their return to the big league…the European Champions Cup. Lose, and the season becomes a colossal failure. Lose, and the pressure on Plumtree will skyrocket and perhaps even lead to an early exit for the New Zealander.

So, yes, while the Challenge Cup is a second-tier competition, it could prove to be the springboard that vaults the Sharks back into the big time. Indeed, Friday night’s final may well be looked back on years from now as the seminal moment when the men from the beaches of KwaZulu-Natal turned the tide.

The same can be said for Gloucester. While they did win silverware earlier in the season in the form of the Premiership Cup, their Premiership proper campaign has been a catastrophe with just the hapless and winless Newcastle Falcons finishing below them.

With desperation as their driving force, which of these two teams will rise to the occasion and dig themselves out of a hole come Friday night?

The Sharks, with their Springbok-laden pack, have superior firepower. They also possess quality playmakers and strike runners, although, the backline still isn’t firing as well as it could/should.

The red-hot Siya Masuku has transformed the team, though. His physicality, ability to play flat and finesse players into gaps along with his tactical appreciation and ace goal-kicking have earned him four successive Man of the Match awards and seen him steer the Sharks out of stormy waters.

Direction had been the primary thing the Durbanites lacked, and the former Cheetahs flyhalf has stepped up as a multi-talented guide and a breath of fresh air. Thus far, as highlighted by his flawless goal-kicking in the dramatic come-from-behind 32-31 semi-final win over Clermont, he’s also shown he has composure in spades, which will give the Sharks added confidence going into the final.

Their set pieces are excellent, although they did stutter in these departments against Clermont. The vulnerabilities in their game are the leaky midfield, which will have to be changed with captain Lukhanyo Am ruled out through injury, and their poor ball protection. Those are the areas Gloucester will target.

As for the Cherry and Whites, they’re ultimate opportunists. A prime example of this was their 40-23 semi-final win over Benetton in which they scored three of their four tries from unstructured play. While they’re dangerous out wide, the English outfit kick a lot – significantly more than the Sharks – with Italian scrumhalf Stephen Varney being their main driver.

The former two-time Challenge Cup winners have been prolific at forcing penalties at scrum time, yet they haven’t come up against any side with the power and pedigree of the Sharks. They should have the edge at the breakdown but will struggle to live with the strength and physicality of the Durbanites at the gain line, which is where I believe the game will be won and lost.

It’ll be tense, tough and tight, but the Sharks should power their way to a historic triumph.

Prediction: Sharks by 5.

Suggested Bet: Sharks -3.5 at 1.88.

Bonus Points:

• By qualifying for the final, Gloucester will equal Toulon’s record of five appearances in the tournament’s deciding match.

• Gloucester are two-time tournament winners (2006 and 2015) and they have also experienced the disappointment of defeat in two finals (2017 and 2018). If they triumph, they will join Clermont and Harlequins on three wins.

• If the Sharks lift the trophy, they will become the 19th to have won the Challenge Cup.

• Gloucester captain, Lewis Ludlow, leads this season’s tournament tackling statistics with 78.

• Two-time Champions Cup winner with Saracens, Vincent Koch, as well as Eben Etzebeth, who was part of the Toulon Challenge Cup side which was defeated by Lyon in Marseille in 2022, are the only members of the Sharks squad to have experienced a European final.

• If selected in Gloucester’s 23, Jonny May will be the only Challenge Cup winner in the Premiership club’s line up having tasted success in 2015 when the West country club defeated Edinburgh at the Twickenham Stoop.

• Of the current Gloucester squad, Freddie Clarke, Ludlow and May played in the losing 2017 final against Stade Francais at Murrayfield, while Ruan Ackermann, Fraser Balmain, Val Rapava Ruskin and Ludlow all featured in the 31-30 defeat by Cardiff in the 2018 decider in Bilbao.

• Sharks second row, Gerbrandt Grobler, who played for Gloucester between 2018 and 2020, could end up facing some of his former teammates on Friday evening.

• Gloucester’s highly influential No 8, Zach Mercer, is the tournament’s top carrier to date with 109.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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