Mindset everything for Sharks in Challenge Cup final, says Neil Powell

‘We can’t just sit and hope we win,’ Sharks director of rugby Neil Powell said about tomorrow’s Challenge Cup final against Gloucester. Photo: BackpagePix

‘We can’t just sit and hope we win,’ Sharks director of rugby Neil Powell said about tomorrow’s Challenge Cup final against Gloucester. Photo: BackpagePix

Published May 23, 2024


Sharks director of rugby Neil Powell and Gloucester coach George Skivington have agreed on one issue ahead of tomorrow night’s Challenge Cup final — victory will turn a season of doom and gloom into a success.

The Sharks and the English Premiership side have won through to the London final, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (9pm kick-off, SA time) after very similar seasons.

Gloucester finished second-last in the Premiership after a disastrous start that included nine successive defeats, and the Sharks finished 13th in the United Rugby Championship after losing nine of their first 10 games.

But both teams have found a lifeline in the Challenge Cup and for the victors in the UK capital, the season will be saved and they will earn a spot in the Champions Cup, while for the losers, it will be a write-off.

The stakes could not be higher.

Skivington said: “Like us, their league campaign has not gone to plan, so both teams have a lot to play for. For it is very simple – our objective is to take silverware back to Gloucester.

“Ultimately, we are in a final – it’s why players do what they do.

“You get to a final and then you have just got to throw everything at it. We put our eggs in the basket of the Challenge Cup. That is why it is such a big week for us.”

Powell, at his diplomatic best, tried to play down the pressure on the Durban side, but he admitted that it was vital for the morale of the whole Sharks set-up that they finished the season on the right note.

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“I wouldn’t say it is crucial that we win, but it is important for us as a coaching team as well as for the players that our hard work gets a reward,” the former Blitzbok boss said.

“So much work has been put in over the last eight months of the URC to turn things around, and a pat on the back would be great.

“It will mean so much to the squad, the fans, to everyone involved, and it will give a big boost to our motivation and confidence ahead of the next season. We want to end on the right note, so that we can start on the right note.”

Powell said that for this to happen, the players have to understand that Gloucester are not going to hand over the cup without a fight.

“Our mindset is everything,” he said. “We can’t just sit and hope we win. The guys know they have to make it happen – no team is going to roll over and give you success.

“If you want to be successful, you have to go out and play well consistently. You have to get every aspect of your game right. You have to be disciplined, and you have to want it.”

Powell pointed out that the Sharks have to top any performance they have delivered so far in the cup.

“We are yet to have a proper 80-minute performance,” he said. “That has to change on Friday night.

“At times we have played good rugby, but we tend to fall off the pace. We have to be consistently good for the entire game.

“A big focus in this regard is our exits. In a number of games, after have scored a try, we concede points shortly after the kick-off,” he explained. “That is not good rugby.

“We need to be far more clinical in our exits, especially in a final. When you put points on the board, you want to put the pressure back on the opposition, not on yourselves.”

In reply, Skivington said: “The Sharks 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. There is no getting away from the physicality of the Sharks.

“Guys like (Eben) Etzebeth are very big, powerful men, and if you are not ready for that physical battle, it is going to be a long day.”