Edinburgh Rugby overpowered by Sharks in EPCR Challenge Cup quarter-finals as momentum shifts after break

First-half advantage disappeared as Sharks bite back to set up Clermont last-four tie

There was no happy return to Durban for Sean Everitt as his Edinburgh side were eliminated from the EPCR Challenge Cup, losing 36-30 to the Sharks in the quarter-final at Kings Park.

The Scots had led 16-14 at the interval but were overpowered in the second half as the star-studded hosts dominated territory and possession and kept the scoreboard ticking over with five penalties, and an opportunistic try from the irascible Bongi Mbonambi. The hooker was one of 11 World Cup winners in the Sharks starting XV and they will now face Clermont Auvergne in the semi-finals at Twickenham Stoop as they bid to become the first South African side to win a ‘European’ trophy.

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For Edinburgh, it’s another long flight home after their second trip to the republic in as many weeks. They are left with only the United Rugby Championship to contest and have five rounds left to move themselves into play-off contention.

Aphelele Fassi of the Hollywoodbets Sharks juggles the ball against Edinburgh during the Challenge Cup quarter-final at Kings Park in Durban. (Photo by Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock)Aphelele Fassi of the Hollywoodbets Sharks juggles the ball against Edinburgh during the Challenge Cup quarter-final at Kings Park in Durban. (Photo by Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock)
Aphelele Fassi of the Hollywoodbets Sharks juggles the ball against Edinburgh during the Challenge Cup quarter-final at Kings Park in Durban. (Photo by Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock)

Everitt had a 15-year association with the Sharks and the Edinburgh coach was looking to atone for the 23-13 defeat his side suffered in the URC at the same venue. It wasn’t to be. The Scots wilted in the 22 degrees heat during a second period in which the Sharks’ might pack took control. Eben Etzebeth was their chief enforcer, and the all-Bok front row of Ox Nche, Mbonambi and Vincent Koch enjoyed superiority at the scrum. Siya Masuku, the Sharks fly-half, made a mess of his first penalty but was immaculate from the tee thereafter. Late tries from Hamish Watson and David Cherry put a gloss on the scoreline for the visitors who had claimed a first-half score through Pierre Schoeman.

Edinburgh began well enough and had the Sharks under pressure from the kick-off, Healy’s effort forcing them to concede a lineout in their own 22, and it was the stand-off who kicked the game’s first points, slotting over a penalty in the fourth minute.

When Sam Skinner dropped the restart the momentum shifted quickly and the Sharks pack began flexing its muscles at the set-piece. There was almost a feeling of relief when the hosts opted to kick a penalty rather than keep pummelling the visitors’ line. Incredibly, Masuku thrashed it wide from almost in front of the posts and the Sharks had nothing to show for all their pressure. Edinburgh made the most of the let-off and when Bill Mata won a turnover, Healy kicked his second penalty to make it 6-0.

This wasn’t what the Sharks had expected and two converted tries in 10 minutes turned the game back in their favour. The first came from some thrilling backs play from their Springboks winger Makazole Mapimpi who gathered his own kick then played it inside to Lukhanyo Am to score.

Edinburgh tried their best to respond but Ewan Ashman was held up over the line by Sharks man mountain Etzebeth. The pair squared up as things got increasingly fractious and you had to admire Ashman’s bravery if nothing else. Referee Matt Carley was less impressed.

Etzebeth then played in James Venter for the second Sharks try which Masuku converted impressively from the corner, making up for his earlier howler. Good or bad, Etzebeth seemed to be in the middle of everything and the big lock was sent to the sin-bin for the final 10 minutes of the half after being penalised for hitting the lifter early in the lineout.

Edinburgh duly capitalised, turning the screw on the Sharks line as Schoeman dummied and piled over for the try. Healy converted then nudged Edinburgh into a half-time lead with his third penalty after a great break from Ben Vellacott.

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Etzebeth returned to bolster the Sharks for the second half and they quickly regained dominance, Masuku edging them 17-16 ahead. The stand-off then increased the lead to 20-16 with his third penalty of the match after Werner Kok had seen a try chalked off for a forward pass.

The game was slipping away from Edinburgh who were conceding penalty after penalty and worse was to follow when Mbonambi peeled off the side of a lineout drive and theatrically dived over the line. The hooker seemed to wind himself in the process and was replaced.

Edinburgh, trailing 27-16, were looking equally deflated. They looked to the bench for inspiration but it was the Sharks who were exerting control, dominating the breakdown and forcing the Scots into multiple infringements. Masuku landed another couple of penalties as the Sharks moved three scores ahead.

Watson gave Edinburgh a lifeline with a maul try and Healy’s conversion reduced the Sharks lead to 33-23 with five minutes remaining. Curwin Bosch, on for Masuku, landed a late penalty to make it 36-23 before Edinburgh nicked another try from the lineout drive through Cherry.



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