Gloucester boss highlights comparisons with Bok-laden Sharks


Gloucester coach George Skeffington is preparing a Sharks side with players who “can do things out of nowhere” for the EPCR Challenge Cup final.

Two teams with less-than-good records in the league this season – Gloucester are ninth in the Premier League, while Sharks are 13th in the United Rugby Championship – will face off at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Friday.

Gloucester deliberately targeted the cup competitions after a run of nine straight Premier League defeats between late October and early January destroyed any play-off ambitions.

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They already have a Premiership Rugby Cup in their trophy cabinet, and are now contesting their fifth Challenge Cup final.

Gloucester won their first two matches – against London Irish in 2006 and Edinburgh nine years later – before losing to Stade Francais (2017) and Cardiff (2018).

Gloucester

Sharks

Standing between them and a cup double this season is a Sharks side whose World Cup winners include the likes of Makazole Mapembe, Lucanyo AM, Ox Ntshe, Vincent Koch and Eben Etzeth.

And while the South African competitors may not have discovered consistency in the URC, their Challenge Cup rivals include Pau, Edinburgh and French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne.

“They have a lot of outstanding players, a lot of players who can do things out of nowhere, from the backline players to Etzebeth in the second row and the World Cup-winning front rowers,” Gloucester Rugby director Skeffington said.

“They have a lot of players who can change the game in an instant, and we have to be ready for that. They are a great opposition with a lot of household names.

“Like us, the league campaign did not go as planned, so both teams have a lot to play for.

“There's no escaping physicality with sharks. Guys like Etzebeth are very big, strong guys, and if you're not prepared for that physical battle, it's going to be a long day.”

“We take pride in our set-pieces and we work hard on them, and so do they. It is a South African trait that set-pieces are very strong, so I expect this to be a very competitive area of ​​the game.

Gloucester have won just five of their 18 Premier League matches, including defeats including a 90-0 defeat to Northampton, yet a third Challenge Cup win will see them qualify for next season's Investec Champions Cup.

The Skeffington side also beat Clermont, eliminated in-form Italian rivals Benetton, defeated Ospreys and beat Edinburgh during a tournament that undoubtedly brought out the best in them.

He added: “The goal is to bring more titles to Gloucester.” “When you get to the final, you have to give everything you can for it.

“We've put our eggs in the going basket for those two cups, which is why it makes this a big week for us.

“It is difficult to choose a team for the final. The whole team contributed in one way or another to us reaching the final.

“We sent a young team to Tbilisi (Gloucester beat Black Lion 15-10 in their Challenge Cup opener), and these guys played a tough game for us.

“Everyone has had a hand in it, and that makes it difficult to get the right balance for this team that we face on Friday.”





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