Streetwise Sharks blow Gloucester away in European Rugby Challenge Cup final

Streetwise Sharks blow Gloucester away in European Rugby Challenge Cup final

Fierce defence, scrummaging dominance, kicking accuracy and the odd touch of magic; South African teams have a trusty formula for big games. Now they have a first taste of ‘European’ silverware, too, after Gloucester succumbed to a streetwise clinic from the Sharks – starring two thirds of the Springboks Bomb Squad that defied England last year – in this one-sided Challenge Cup final.

Ox Nche and Vincent Koch, propping either shoulder of Bongi Mbonambi, milked set-piece penalties out of Gloucester to complement a sublime try from Phepsi Buthelezi. All of that built a 13-point half-time lead that the Sharks, captained by the imperious Eben Etzebeth, were unlikely to relinquish.

Indeed, John Plumtree’s charges turned the screw in the second period. Siya Masuku accumulated 21 points and James Venter, the relentless flanker, registered almost as many tackles. “The plan was to apply pressure to the Gloucester pack,” explained Plumtree afterwards. “We thought that was their strength.”

Chasing a second trophy of the season, having landed the Premiership Cup two months ago, George Skivington’s side were out to vindicate the subsequent decision to prioritise this competition over league commitments. Infamously, that had brought about a 9src-src drubbing in Northampton. Would a double dispatch the humiliation of such an afternoon? That was the hope, which only really glimmered for 15 minutes.

“I don’t think anyone threw the towel in, but we were blown away for most of that game,” admitted Skivington, who cited a failure to capitalise on early impetus. “We made some bold decisions to try and go hard at this tournament. Not to win it is gutting.”

Gloucester’s form in the Challenge Cup had been decidedly more assured than their Premiership efforts. Similarly, despite a sparkling roster littered with W

…. to be continued
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