Meticulous Masuku boots Sharks into the Challenge Cup final

JAMES Venter of the Hollywoodbets Sharks supported by Bongi Mbonambi as they beat Clermont to march into the Challenge Cup final. | Shutterstock

JAMES Venter of the Hollywoodbets Sharks supported by Bongi Mbonambi as they beat Clermont to march into the Challenge Cup final. | Shutterstock

Published May 4, 2024


FOR Sharks fans, this Challenge Cup semi-final was an extension of the Springboks’ agonising run of one-point wins to secure the 2023 World Cup.

The 32-31 comeback defeat of Clermont was similar to the semi-final victory over England, when all seemed lost before giants such as Eben Etzebeth, Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch changed the course of a match that seemed lost at 31-18.

The Sharks will play the winner of the Gloucester versus Benetton semi-final in the final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in North London on May 24.

The aforementioned players, along with the rest of the Sharks team, were comprehensively outplayed by the French side in the first half, but they manned up in the second. Etzebeth, in particular, was outstanding as he took the game to the opposition, and his teammates followed.

Of course, they would, he is Eben Etzebeth.

The half-time team talk must have been something special. The Clermont team, affiliated with the famous Michelin tyre factory, had rolled over the Sharks with ease, drummed in a few wheelies and seemed to be accelerating into the Challenge Cup final.

At half-time, the embarrassed Sharks were wiping the mud from their faces and contemplating how they had been so outclassed.

The tough talk in the change room would have been about the failure of the Shark’s pack to dominate the set pieces, despite boasting a host of World Cup winners.

The pre-game predictions had been about the Sharks’ Springbok tight five delivering on their reputation.

It didn’t happen and soon a pattern developed in the first 40. The Sharks would grind away and earn penalties for flyhalf Siya Masuku to kick, but every time Clermont took the ball wide, they scored by exploring vulnerabilities in the defence.

The Sharks’ defence could not cope out wide.

After Masuku had kicked a penalty in the third minute, the giant Fiji No 7 Pecile Yato carved through Lukhanyo Am and set up a try for winger Joris Jurand.

The cover tackle attempt by Apehelele Fassi was flimsy, while Am was left for dead by a flanker.

Jurand scored another when the Sharks were again indecisive out wide. A crosskick from flyhalf Anthony Belleau found the wing in the clear.

The Sharks kept the scoreboard ticking via the boot of the meticulous Masuku, but they were playing no rugby

By half time, the Sharks flyhalf had nailed six penalties, but Clermont had scored tries through Australian fullback Alex Newsome after his countryman, Rob Simmons, had levered the ball from the grasp of Ox Nche to spark a counter attack.

It was falling apart for the Sharks as their line-out malfunctioned and Clermont won a scrum penalty.

The Sharks’ defence was caught in two minds. Some were rushing up and some were lagging behind and the result was holes for the French to run into.

Almost every time they spread the ball wide, the French looked like they would score.

Clermont led by 10 points at half time and the Sharks urgently needed to change the flow of the game, but from the restart they instantly gave away a penalty and the margin extended to 13.

Around the three-quarter-mark, the likes of Etzebeth had had enough and they took the game by the scruff of the neck.

The best period of play for the Sharks, some 15 phases, culminated in Vincent Koch barrelling over from close quarters to pull the score back to 25-31.

The drama went up a level when Fassi was penalised for colliding with an opposition player and he was yellow-carded. Importantly for the Sharks, Belleau missed a sitter to keep it to a six-point difference with 15 to go.

Masuku shook off an iffy first-half performance to nudge a kick into space for Makazole Mapimpi to roll back the years and score as good a try as he has ever done.

Masuku’s conversion put the Sharks ahead and they had the spirit to keep Clermont at bay for the remaining 10 minutes.


Sharks— Tries: Vincent Koch, Makazole Mapimpi. Penalties: Siya Masuku (6). Conversions: Masuku (2).

Clermont — Tries: Joris Jurand (2), Alex Newsome. Conversions: Anthony Belleau (2). Penalties: Belleau (4).