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European Challenge Cup | Final
May 24, 2024 at 8pm UK
GloucesterGloucester Rugby
Tuisue (57'), Socino (75'), Clarke (78')
Buthelezi (25'), Fassi (54'), Mapimpi (59')

Preview: Gloucester Rugby vs. Sharks - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Gloucester Rugby vs. Sharks - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Friday's European Challenge Cup clash between Gloucester Rugby and Sharks, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

Gallagher Premiership club Gloucester Rugby will take on United Rugby Championship outfit the Sharks in the EPCR Challenge Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Friday evening.

Aside from etching their names in history, these teams will have an added incentive, as the winner of the Challenge Cup will also secure a spot in the 2024-25 Champions Cup.

Match preview

Gloucester are in the running to claim a European double in 2023-24, having already won the Premiership Rugby Cup in March with a 23-13 victory over the Leicester Tigers, and a win on Friday could deal a second blow to the East Midlanders by eliminating them from next season's Champions Cup.

The Cherry and Whites shifted their focus to the Challenge Cup after enduring nine consecutive Premiership defeats between late October and early January and finished the domestic campaign in ninth place, suffering 13 losses in 18 games, including a 90-0 defeat to Northampton a couple of weeks ago.

Despite their poor Premiership record this season, Gloucester remained unbeaten in the Challenge Cup and were the only team in the competition to emerge from the group stage without a loss before defeating Castres, Ospreys and Benetton in the knockout stages.

The West Country club now have the opportunity to win their third Challenge Cup title, having previously overcome London Irish in 2006 and Edinburgh in 2015. They were also runners-up in two other finals, losing to Stade Francais in 2017 and Cardiff in 2018.

If George Skivington's side emerges victorious over the Sharks, they will join an exclusive group of teams to lift the Challenge Cup three times, with only Harlequins and Clermont Auvergne achieving that feat in the past.

Meanwhile, the Sharks enter the final aiming to become the first South African side to claim EPCR silverware, and if they manage to do so, they will become the 19th team to lift the Challenge Cup trophy.

After winning only two of their first nine games in all competitions this season, the Sharks now enter this clash on the back of six victories in their last nine games, while the scalps they have claimed in this competition include Pau, Edinburgh and Italian outfit Zebre.

The Durban-based club secured their spot in the final after mounting a comeback from a 10-point half-time deficit and held on for a tense 32-31 victory in the semi-final against Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stoop.

John Plumtree's men suffered a 36-14 loss to Cardiff in the URC at Kings Park on Saturday but had already dispatched their senior players to London to ready themselves for their EPCR final debut. As a result, they fielded a second-string lineup against Cardiff, which included 14 changes to the regular starting 15.

While the Sharks currently occupy a lowly 13th place in the URC standings, they boast a lineup brimming with World Cup-winning Springboks such as Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am, props Ox Nche and Vincent Koch and 2023 South African Player of the Year Eben Etzebeth.

Gloucester Rugby European Challenge Cup form:

  • W
  • W
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  • W
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Gloucester Rugby form (all competitions):

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  • L
  • L
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Sharks European Challenge Cup form:

  • L
  • W
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  • W
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Sharks form (all competitions):

  • W
  • L
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Team News

Adam Hastings and Santi Carreras have returned to full training and are in contention to feature in this match. Carreras, who underwent an appendix removal procedure, has been sidelined for more than a month.

In Carreras' absence, and with Lloyd Evans also sidelined due to a hand injury, Skivington has relied on Josh Hathaway at full-back in recent weeks, and the young Welshman should start on Friday if the Argentine is not at full fitness.

Sharks director of rugby Neil Powell confirmed that star centre Lukhanyo Am will miss the final due to a shoulder problem and a fractured rib. The Sharks captain has also been ruled out for the final round of the URC campaign.

While the Sharks will certainly miss Am's experience and leadership, there was some good for the side this week, with Ethan Hooker being cleared as fit for the match at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium following a couple of weeks on the sidelines due to an ankle injury.

Gloucester Rugby predicted starting lineup: 15 Josh Hathaway, 14 Jonny May, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Seb Atkinson, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Caolan Englefield, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Lewis Ludlow (c), 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Freddie Thomas, 4 Freddie Clarke, 3 Kirill Gotovtsev, 2 Seb Blake, 1 Mayco Vivas

Replacements: 16 Santi Socino, 17 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 18 Ciaran Knight, 19 Albert Tuisue, 20 Jack Clement, 21 Stephan Varney, 22 Charlie Atkinson, 23 Alex Hearle

Sharks starting lineup: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Ethan Hooker, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 James Venter, 5 Emile van Heerden, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche

Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Gerbrandt Grobler, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Boeta Chamberlain, 23 Curwin Bosch

We say: Gloucester Rugby 28-34 Sharks

While the majority of the fans inside what should be a packed Tottenham Hotspur Stadium are likely to be donning Cherry and White, the Sharks will also have a massive following behind them owing to the number of Springboks fans and South Africans living in London.

Gloucester have won this competition twice in the past, but the Sharks boast a formidable lineup that includes several World Cup and Champions Cup winners, who know what it takes to win on the biggest stages. This should be a fierce battle but we feel the Southern Hemisphere side will edge the result.

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