No Am, but Etzebeth, Koch cleared for Sharks final

Lock Eben Etzebeth has recovered from injury and will feature for the Sharks in Friday’s Challenge Cup final in London. Photo: BackpagePix

Lock Eben Etzebeth has recovered from injury and will feature for the Sharks in Friday’s Challenge Cup final in London. Photo: BackpagePix

Published May 22, 2024


There was good and bad news on the injury front for the Sharks yesterday as star prop Ox Nche got ready to take on a former Russian wrestler in Friday’s Challenge Cup final against Gloucester in London (9pm kick-off, SA time).

Sharks captain Lukhanyo Am and scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse (shoulder) have been officially ruled out, and may even miss out on part of the Springboks’ international season.

Am missed out on last week’s 36-14 United Rugby Championship defeat to Cardiff in Durban with a shoulder problem and a fractured rib, and it was hoped that he would recover in time for the Challenge Cup decider.

But it was not to be, and the outside centre is in doubt for the Springboks’ first match of the 2024 season against Wales in London on June 22 as well.

Sharks director of rugby Neil Powell, though, added that Bok heavyweights Eben Etzebeth (neck) and Vincent Koch (ankle) have been passed fit to play after also sustaining injuries in the 25-24 defeat to Benetton a few weeks ago, while centre Ethan Hooker is also likely to be available after shaking off an ankle injury.

“Lukhanyo will be out for quite a few weeks. I’m not sure about the extent of his injury, but he’s got like a shoulder injury that he is struggling with – I think there is a fractured rib as well,” Powell said from London yesterday.

“It’s always a big loss when you lose one of your international players, and also your captain. Lukhanyo was really good for us this season, and this is what you want in knockout games and finals – your more experienced, senior players available for selection.

“Jaden is more serious and will be out for longer. But I believe Lukhanyo will be back for the international matches later in the year.”

Nche will be delighted to have his Bok colleagues Koch and Etzebeth back in order to tackle a streetwise Gloucester pack in the scrums at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Friday.

— The Sharks (@SharksRugby) May 19, 2024

Along with Bongi Mbonambi, the Sharks front row will have to contain Kirill Gotovtsev, a 36-year-old Russian tighthead prop who grew up in Siberia and was previously a wrestler and participated in bobsleigh.

Asked by Independent Newspapers yesterday if he is preparing to dish out a few wrestling moves of his own on Gotovtsev, Nche giggled and said: “No! I’m just happy we won’t have to wrestle on Friday, honestly! I did see that he is pretty much like a state champion, but we just have to scrum.

“You can never relax, not in this sport. Rugby can be a very humbling sport, and I think it’s going to be a very good challenge for me to actually play and scrum against a guy like that.

“He’s captained the Russian national team, he’s represented them a lot of times and has played in a World Cup. So, he’s actually a pretty good player.”

— The Sharks (@SharksRugby) May 20, 2024

Meanwhile, Nche added from London yesterday that the Springboks will find a way to get around the new law that will be introduced on July 1, where teams cannot opt for a scrum from a free-kick.

In the World Cup quarter-final against France, Damian Willemse opted for a scrum from a free-kick for a mark inside the 22, with the South Africans earning a penalty late in the first half – but Willemse won’t be able to do that in future.

“I can’t actually say much on it, because it is what it is. Our job is just to take the laws as they are and just try to follow them,” Nche said.