Scrum the key as Sharks win European Challenge Cup final

Triumph: Sharks players celebrate with the trophy after their European Challenge Cup final win over Gloucester at the Tottenham Hotsour Stadium (Glyn KIRK)
Triumph: Sharks players celebrate with the trophy after their European Challenge Cup final win over Gloucester at the Tottenham Hotsour Stadium (Glyn KIRK)

Scrum dominance proved decisive as the Sharks became the first South African side to win a major European rugby trophy by beating Gloucester 36-22 in Friday's Challenge Cup final in London.

No 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, full-back Aphelele Fassi and wing Makazole Mapimpi all scored tries for the Sharks, with fly-half Siya Masuku landing eight of his nine goal-kicks in a 21-point haul at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

But it was South Africa prop Vincent Koch who was named man-of-the-match after anchoring the Sharks' scrum.

"Being in South Africa with a South African team...I haven't won any trophies in South Africa so being with the Sharks first year back, it's unbelievable," Koch told TNT Sports,

"We knew they (Gloucester) had a good scrum and line-out," added the 34-year-old, a double world champion with the Springboks, who also twice lifted the elite European Champions Cup with London club Saracens.

"We had to be at our best and the boys showed that today."

Sharks captain Eben Etzebeth said Friday's win, achieved in South African teams' second year of senior European competition, was the highlight of his club career.

"I think this will rate third, obviously the two World Cups will always be number one and two," the second row star told reporters.

"But at club level this is by far the best -- the last championship I won was the Currie Cup in 2012."

Victory saw the Sharks qualify for next season's Champions Cup.

- No foothold for Gloucester -

By contrast, defeat meant English Premiership side Gloucester failed to add to their Challenge Cup final victories of 2006 and 2015.

"We didn't really get a foothold in the game," said Gloucester boss George Skivington.

"We started well and we finished well but between that we got sucked into a battle of scrums."

Both the Sharks and Gloucester were looking to put poor domestic seasons behind them.

The Sharks, despite a squad featuring several World Cup winners, including Etzebeth, Mapimpi and Koch, are languishing in 13th place in the 16-team United Rugby Championship with one round of the regular season remaining while Gloucester finished second-bottom in the English Premiership.

Gloucester, roared on by their loyal fans, dominated the opening stages, but superb Sharks defence repelled a driving maul that threatened a try, although Fassi was sin-binned in the sixth minute.

Soon afterwards, Gloucester almost had a try but centre Chris Harris touched down inches short as he stretched out.

From the ensuing scrum the Sharks won a penalty and cleared their line, with Gloucester having nothing to show for their early efforts.

Instead it was the Sharks, still a man down, who opened the scoring when Masuku landed a 14th-minute penalty from a scrum.

Scrum-half Caolan Englefield drew Gloucester level with a superb penalty from inside his own half in the 23rd minute.

But three minutes later the Sharks had a try when Buthelezi sprinted in from 35 metres after powering through four tackles.

Masuku converted and soon afterwards landed another penalty.

The Sharks all World Cup-winning front row then forced a fourth scrum penalty, with Masuku on target from 34 metres to leave his side 13 points ahead at the break.

Skivington changed his entire front row at half-time in a bid to shore up a creaking scrum.

But yet another scrum penalty, in front of the posts, allowed Masuku to nudge the Sharks further ahead at 19-3.

And that became 22-3 when Masuku landed his fifth penalty after Argentina wing Santiago Carreras illegally challenged Mapimpi in the air.

Williams then sent in Fassi for a 55th-minute converted try.

Gloucester replacement Albert Tuisue was driven over for a converted try, only for a diving Mapimpi to score following a precise kick out of hand by Masuku.

Gloucester replacement fly-half Stephen Varney's try was then disallowed for an offside in the build-up by former England wing Jonny May, making his last appearance for the club.

Santi Socino and Freddie Clarke did score tries in the closing minutes but they were too little, too late for Gloucester.