Sharks search for Challenge Cup final momentum as Murray Koster cops hefty ban

Sharks centre Lukhanyo Am’s arm is still in a sling, which may rule him out of the Challenge Cup final, but Francois Venter (second from right) is set to be fit. Photo: BackpagePix

Sharks centre Lukhanyo Am’s arm is still in a sling, which may rule him out of the Challenge Cup final, but Francois Venter (second from right) is set to be fit. Photo: BackpagePix

Published May 17, 2024


Only a month ago, an under-strength Sharks team almost upset the table-topping Glasgow Warriors on their home turf to set a positive tone for a three-week tour culminating in a Challenge Cup semi-final victory over Clermont.

The Sharks hope to revive the spirit of that game at Scotstoun Stadium when a similar line-up hosts Cardiff in a United Rugby Championship game at Kings Park tomorrow (6.15pm kick-off).

Most of the players who will contest the Challenge Cup final against Gloucester at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium next Friday will fly to London tomorrow to begin preparations for the final early.

Some of the second-stringers in action against Cardiff will be in the match 23 for the final, but assistant coach Joey Mongalo says how the team plays against Cardiff is vital for overall morale.

He pointed out that Gloucester are likely to have suffered a dip in confidence after their B-team took 90 points from Northampton last week in an English Premiership match.

“The team that’s probably going to play against Cardiff is similar to the one that ran out against Glasgow,” Mongalo said of the 21-10 loss to the Warriors on April 19.

— The Sharks (@SharksRugby) May 16, 2024

In the second half, the youthful Sharks combination outscored a host team packed with Scotland internationals and denied them a bonus point.

The following week, the Sharks beat the Scarlets 32-27, and finished the tour with a comeback 32-31 defeat of Clermont.

“The fact that the team fronted up well against Glasgow, especially defensively, set up our tour, and it influenced the overall mood when the guys who had been rested (mostly the Springboks stars) arrived to join the tour,” Mongalo said.

“This game (against Cardiff) is the launch pad for how we’re going to go to the final because we’re a squad – not a Sharks A or Sharks B team.

“We’re a collective that has given this group of players an opportunity to play well, and that aims to give the guys going to London good momentum.

“When you look at Gloucester’s heavy defeat over the weekend, that’s not something you easily sweep aside. It rubs off on the rest of the group.

“So hopefully the way our guys account for themselves against Cardiff will be a true reflection of where we are as a squad and how far we’ve come.”

— BKT United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) May 16, 2024

Mongalo said the Sharks’ medical team is working overtime to get the strongest possible team on the field against Gloucester.

“You have to let the medical process run its course, or to bend it so the guys can have enough time to recover.”

The Sharks will likely have mixed fortunes regarding the raft of injuries they suffered in last week’s 25-24 loss to Benetton.

It seems that Bok giants Eben Etzebeth and Vincent Koch are on the road to recovery, but Lukhanyo Am has his arm in a sling – and it would be a brave man to bet on the centre starting in the final.

The midfield remains a major area of concern for the Sharks. This season’s find, Ethan Hooker, is in a race against time to get his ankle ready for the final, while Murray Koster received a five-match suspension yesterday following his red card against Benetton for a dangerous ruck clean-out.

The better news is that former Springbok centre Francois Venter should be okay after pulling out of the Benetton game at the 11th hour.