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Gloucester boss highlights comparisons with Bok-laden Sharks

By PA
Eben Etzebeth of Hollywoodbets Sharks smiles at a scrum surrounded by team-mates during the EPCR Challenge Cup Semi Final match between Hollywoodbets Sharks and ASM Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stoop on May 04, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

Gloucester boss George Skivington is braced for a Sharks team with players “who can do things out of nowhere” in the EPCR Challenge Cup final.

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Two sides with unflattering league records this season – Gloucester were Gallagher Premiership ninth-placed finishers, while Sharks are 13th in the United Rugby Championship – clash at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Friday.

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

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They already have the Premiership Rugby Cup in their trophy cabinet, and they now contest a fifth Challenge Cup final.

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

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Standing between them and a season’s cup double are a Sharks team with World Cup winners throughout their ranks in players like Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch and Eben Etzebeth.

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

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“They have got a lot of high-profile players, a lot of guys who can do things out of nowhere, which goes from back-line players to Etzebeth in the second-row and World Cup-winning front-rowers,” Gloucester rugby director Skivington said.

“They have got a lot of guys who can change a game in a moment, and we have to be ready for that. They are a big opposition with lots of household names.

“Like us, their league campaign hasn’t gone to plan, so both teams have a lot to play for.

“There is no getting away from the physicality with the Sharks. Guys like Etzebeth are very big, powerful men, and if you are not ready for that physicality battle it is going to be a long day.

“We pride ourselves on our set-piece and we work really hard on it, and so do they. It is a South African trait to have a very strong set-piece, so I expect that to be a very competitive area of the game.”

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Gloucester won only five of their 18 Premiership games, with the defeats including a 90-0 humiliation against Northampton, yet a third Challenge Cup triumph would see them qualify for next season’s Investec Champions Cup.

Skivington’s team also beat Clermont, knocked out in-form Italian challengers Benetton, defeated Ospreys and edged past Edinburgh during a tournament that has undoubtedly brought the best out of them.

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“The objective is to bring more silverware to Gloucester,” he added. “You get to a final and then you have just got to throw everything at it.

“We put our eggs in the basket of going for these two cups, which is why it makes it a big week for us.

“It is tough picking a team for a final. The whole squad has contributed one way or another to getting us to the final.

“We sent quite a young team to Tbilisi (Gloucester beat Black Lion 15-10 in their opening Challenge Cup match), and those guys delivered a tough game for us.

“Everyone has had a hand in it, and it does make it a challenge getting the balance right for this team that we play on Friday.”

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