Impressive Sharks seal historic Challenge Cup win

With their forwards leading the charge, the Hollywoodbets Sharks delivered an impressive and physical performance to become the first South African team to taste success in Europe with a 36-22 victory over Gloucester in the EPCR Challenge Cup final in London on Friday night.

The Durbanites were under pressure early in the game, with a yellow card in the sixth minute to Aphelele Fassi (fullback) putting them on the back foot, but they excellently negated the Gloucester challenge and then switched gears to take control of the game in the 20 minutes before and after half-time.

The Hollywoodbets Sharks led by 16-3 at the break, with Siya Masuku (flyhalf) faultless off the tee with three penalty goals added to his conversion of Phepsi Buthelezi’s superb try in the 25th minute, in which he broke three tackles before selling a beautiful dummy to race over the tryline for the opening five-pointer of the match.Masuku added two more penalty goals early in the second half before two tries in quick succession – by Fassi and Makazole Mapimpi (wing), from a pin-point cross-kick by his flyhalf, between the 55th and 60th minutes – all but sealed the deal for the Hollywoodbets Sharks.

Both tries were converted by Masuku, who finished the game having kicked eight from nine off the tee for a personal contribution of 21 points.

But the Sharks flyhalf could not have done that if it wasn’t for his pack’s dominant performance. Although their lineout wasn’t perfect, the KwaZulu-Natalians smashed their English opponents in the scrum, with the Springbok front row of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Kock – the Player of the Match – laying the foundation.

Behind them, Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth – who captained the Sharks on the night in the absence of the injured Lukhanyo Am – and his fellow forwards tackled anything in red and white that moved, while Grant Williams (scrumhalf) and Mapimpi were very dangerous on the attack.Gloucester hit back with two tries in the final five minutes to give their points tally a boost, but apart from the opening 15 minutes or so, they were never really in the game.

In the end, the KwaZulu-Natalians had marginally more possession and territory, both teams’ stats for successful lineouts and tackles were the same and they scored three tries apiece, but where the Hollywoodbets Sharks got 100% for their scrums, Gloucester only won 56% of theirs, and that was the difference.

With this victory, the team from Durban not only made history, but also booked their spot in the Investec Champions Cup for next season.

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