Eben Etzebeth to lead Springbok-laden Sharks in EPCR Challenge Cup final

The Sharks' Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth will lead the team in their Challenge Cup final against Gloucester. Picture: Romain Perrocheau / AFP

The Sharks' Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth will lead the team in their Challenge Cup final against Gloucester. Picture: Romain Perrocheau / AFP

Published May 23, 2024


Despite a double injury blow, the Sharks will still have no fewer than 10 Springboks in their match-day squad for Friday night’s EPCR Challenge Cup final against Gloucester at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Double World Cup-winning lock Eben Etzebeth will lead the team in North London in the absence of outside centre Lukhanyo Am. Springbok scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse has also been ruled out because of injury.

Sharks head coach John Plumtree has stuck with the bulk of the team that defeated Clermont in the semi-final. In the only changes to the starting line-up, Gerbrandt Grobler comes in for Emile van Heerden at lock, while Francois Venter moves into the inside centre position with Ethan Hooker replacing Am at No 13.

Dylan Richardson and Eduan Keyter, both impressed in the Sharks last United Rugby Championship match against Cardiff and have been rewarded with a place in the match-day 23.

“The mood in the camp is pretty good, everyone is focussed,” said the Sharks’ Springbok loosehead prop Ox Nche, who will be playing his 50th international competition game for the team.

“It’s a big game for us all, everyone is in tune and excited; we just want to give it our all.”

Nche says the Sharks need to stay focussed and not be overwhelmed by the occasion.

The Durban side are playing for more than just a trophy, as a win in the final will also book their place in next season’s Champions Cup after a difficult URC campaign saw them miss out on the playoff positions.

But the Sharks have many World Cup winners in their team, players who know what it takes to stand up when the heat is on.

— The Sharks (@SharksRugby) May 22, 2024

“Keeping players calm and everyone focussed on what they need to do and how they can help the team; that’s our biggest task at the moment,” said Nche.

“This is a serious game, it means a lot to us, it’s something we haven’t done as a union and it’s going to be as big a challenge for us.

“We’re approaching it the same way [as a World Cup final] ... the intensity is the same because we could be the first South African team to win a European title.

“It would be an amazing reward if we did it!”

Sharks team:

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

Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Lappies Labuschagne, 20 Dylan Richardson, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Eduan Keyter.