Gloucester Rugby alert to the Sharks' x-factor Springbok stars says George Skivington

The Sharks might be languishing in 13th in the URC, but Gloucester's opponents in the Challenge Cup final on Friday night are packed full of legitimate world-class talent that has put George Skivington on high alert heading into the season defining game.

Standing between the Cherry and Whites and a season’s cup double, having beaten Leicester Tigers to lift the Premiership Rugby Cup back in March, are a Sharks team with World Cup winners throughout their ranks in players like winger Makazole Mapimpi, centre Lukhanyo Am, props Ox Nche and Vincent Koch and lock Eben Etzebeth.

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And while the South African challengers might not have discovered consistency in the URC, much like Gloucester who finished ninth in the Gallagher Premiership this season but are unbeaten in cup competitions, the Sharks' Challenge Cup scalps include Pau, Edinburgh and French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne.

“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 director of rugby George 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 physical 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.”

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

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.

“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.”