The Sharks' Springbok-inspired pack overpower Gloucester Rugby to win the Challenge Cup

Gloucester Rugby were physically beaten up and manhandled at times by a Springbok-inspired pack to lose 36-22 to The Sharks in the 2023/24 Challenge Cup final.

Apart from a dominant opening 10 minutes and lively finish, George Skivington’s side were conclusively outplayed in front of a 34,761 crowd at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as they tasted defeat in a European final for a third time on their fifth visit to the showpiece game having been on losing side in 2017 and 2018.

READ MORE: The Sharks' Springbok-inspired pack overpower Gloucester Rugby to win the Challenge Cup

Gloucester had lifted the Premiership Rugby Cup earlier this season and – after enduring a club record nine-successive Gallagher Premiership losses – Skivington chose to focus on Europe at the expense of the league, with Skivington hoping the juggling of playing resources would pay dividends as he was able to name a strong squad for the final, but instead Gloucester were well beaten on the night.

In echoes of the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, when an England side that included Gloucester winger Jonny May were scrummaged off the park by the mighty Springbok pack, The Sharks tight five won the contest for the South African club side with a dominant setpiece display to take the legs out from under the Cherry and Whites and build the foundation for the victory.

Late tries by Santiago Socino and Freddie Clarke gave the final scoreline a kinder sheen as May, Hastings and Socino's farewell match failed to produce a fairytale ending. The Sharks became the first South African side to win a 'European' competition and the foundations for their victory were laid by the ‘Bomb Squad' front-row combination of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch, with captain Eben Etzebeth and Gerbrandt Grobler providing the power in the engine room.

Although they went on to dominate, they spent the opening 10 minutes defending their line with centre Chris Harris going closest to drawing first blood only to fall inches short with an outstretched hand.

Aphelele Fassi was sent to the sin-bin for offside as the South African side began to buckle but once the storm had been weathered, they advanced downfield and were off the mark through a Siya Masuku penalty.

A monster kick by scrum-half Caolan Englefield saw Gloucester draw level, but having matched the Sharks in the physicality stakes, they then waved through number eight Phepsi Buthelezi for a soft try after player of the match Koch opened up the defence with an offload off the deck.

Over went two more penalties from Masuku as his side took to squeezing their opponents and taking the points when they became available.

A dominant scrum early in the second-half gave Gloucester hope they could turn the tide but then as they looked to build pressure, Zach Mercer gave an intercept pass to Grant Williams to put the Sharks back on the offensive.

Williams’ break was the prelude to another spell of Sharks ascendency that was underscored by three more penalties and a try from Fassi that was the product of fluid attack.

Gloucester hit back with a maul try finished by Albert Tuisue but their failure to deal with a kick opened the door for Makazole Mapimpi to gather a pinpoint Masuku chip and touch down.

Expansive late tries from Socino and Clarke gave the English club scoreboard respectability, but it had been a disappointing night.

Gloucester Rugby: 15. Santiago Carreras, 14. Jonny May, 13. Chris Harris, 12. Seb Atkinson, 11. Ollie Thorley, 10. Adam Hastings, 9. Caolan Englefield, 1. Jamal Ford-Robinson, 2. Seb Blake, 3. Fraser Balmain, 4. Freddie Clarke, 5. Arthur Clark, 6. Ruan Ackermann, 7. Lewis Ludlow (c), 8. Zach Mercer

Replacements: 16. Santiago Socino, 17. Mayco Vivas, 18. Kirill Gotovtsev, 19. Albert Tuisue, 20. Jack Clement, 21. Stephen Varney, 22. Max Llewellyn, 23. Josh Hathaway

Hollywoodbet Sharks: 15. Aphelele Fassi, 1 Werner 4.Kok, 13. Ethan Hooker, 12. Francois Venter, 11. Makazole Mapimpi, 10. Siya Masuku, 9. Grant Williams, 1. Ox Nche, 2. Bongi Mbonambi, 3. Vincent Koch, 4. Eben Etzebeth (c), 5. Gerbrandt Grobler, 6. James Venter, 7. Vincent Tshituka, 8. Phepsi Buthelezi

Replacements: 16. Fez Mbatha, 17. Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18. Hanro Jacobs, 19. Lappies Labuschagne, 20. Dylan Richardson, 21. Cameron Wright, 22. Curwin Bosch, 23. Eduan Keyter

Referee: Matthieu Raynal

Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace, Pierre Brousset

Television Match Official: Eric Gauzins