Gloucester watching Sharks closely ahead of final

GlOUCESTER Lewis Ludlow wins a line-out during the Gallagher Premiership match at Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester. | BackpagePix

GlOUCESTER Lewis Ludlow wins a line-out during the Gallagher Premiership match at Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester. | BackpagePix

Published May 19, 2024


GLOUCESTER captain Lewis Ludlow is under no illusions about what his team will have to get right to beat the Sharks in the Challenge Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Friday night.

The English Premiership club and the Sharks have had very similar seasons in that they have been poor in their respective leagues but excellent in the Challenge Cup and on Friday night one of the two will enjoy salvation. For the other the season will be seen as a write-off.

Ludlow says he and his teammates watched the Sharks’ comeback in the semi-final against Clermont with big eyes.

“One bloke that stood out was Eben Etzebeth. He took it upon himself to spark everything in that comeback (the Sharks were 13 points down with 20 minutes to go). He had four huge carries, he caught a box kick chase … he pulled the Sharks back into the game,” Ludlow observed.

“Eben and his senior players had a good chat and said ‘This is what we have to do. We go back to our basic game, we are strong and powerful and can get on top of these guys’.

“That is what happened. The Sharks have threats on the edges and with good ball suddenly coming their way, they scored excellent tries.”

Ludlow, who has played at No 8 for England, says the Sharks’ 32-31 defeat of Clermont was shades of the World Cup.

“Those senior Springboks have an overriding confidence, they knew they could win that game if they got their basics right. Rugby is an 85-minute game now and the Sharks (and the Boks) have proved that nothing is ever over until it is over. Good players come to the fore in tight moments.”

So the winning and losing of the game is not rocket science for Gloucester.

“We’re used to playing the big French sides and playing the Sharks will be similar,” he said. “If you get it right in the forwards, it is a momentum builder through the game. If you paint good pictures in the set pieces and the rucks, you get the referee on your side.

“We know we have a dangerous backline but our pack must be at its very best. Our backs can’t work off ball from a pack going backward.”

It is interesting to note that Gloucester are in 12th place in the Premiership with one game to go and the Sharks are 12th in the United Rugby Championship. After the big final the Sharks will have one fixture left (against the Bulls in Durban).

For both teams, there is the enormous reward of a place in the Champions Cup next season if they can get over the line on Friday night. The Sharks can’t get there via the URC and Gloucester are too far down in their league to make it.

Ludlow said the implications are massive for Gloucester given the perilous financial state of rugby in England. In recent years some big-name clubs have been liquidated.

“Getting into the Champions Cup would be huge,” he said. “You want to play the best teams in the best competition. It will be so good for our club because the Champions Cup means full stadiums and that is good for the business side of the game. Rugby is in a tough spot and we as players can help by getting into the Champions Cup.”