Ox Nche of the Sharks tackles Viliame Mata of Edinburgh Rugby. Image: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

Clermont awaits as Sharks swim into uncharted waters

Sharks make history, reaching Challenge Cup semi-final against Clermont. Can they continue their winning streak in London?


Ox Nche of the Sharks tackles Viliame Mata of Edinburgh Rugby. Image: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

The Sharks have made history by becoming the first South African franchise to reach the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup. The Durban-based team has been on a winning streak, securing four consecutive victories in all competitions.

Sharks to Face Clermont in London

The Sharks will face Clermont in the semi-final, which will be played at the Stoop, home of Harlequins in London. Although the venue is closer to Clermont fans, the Sharks have a decent support base in the English capital due to the large number of expatriates living there.

The Stoop is a familiar battleground for many in John Plumtree’s current squad, as they played against Harlequins in last season’s Champions Cup. Despite losing 39-29, the Sharks’ lineup has since undergone changes, with several players moving on.

Sharks’ Current Form and URC Standings

The Sharks are currently enjoying their best sequence of results under Plumtree’s tenure, having defeated Edinburgh (twice), Ulster, and Zebre at Kings Park. However, with only five rounds left in the United Rugby Championship (URC), the Sharks have no realistic chance of cracking the top eight.

Instead, their ticket back to Champions Cup status in 2024/25 lies in winning both the semi-final against Clermont and the Challenge Cup final itself, set for Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 24 May.

Preparing for Clermont

Plumtree can use the next two URC games against Glasgow and Scarlets as preparation for the Clermont clash. With a short turnaround to the Glasgow fixture, he may shield some of his star Springbok players or give them limited game time off the bench.

The match against Scarlets, currently one slot beneath the Sharks in the URC, seems to be a more attractive “Clermont-sharpener” for the frontliners, taking place just over a week before the semi-final.

Clermont’s Form and Key Players

Clermont has been unbeaten in their last four fixtures at home but has shown vulnerability away from Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin. They currently lie 11th in the Top 14 and have a tendency to be hot-or-cold in their performances.

After narrowly defeating the Cheetahs 27-22 in the Challenge Cup round-of-16, Clermont thrashed Ulster 53-14 in the quarter-final. However, they have also suffered heavy defeats on the road in the Top 14, including losses to Lyon, Oyonnax, and La Rochelle.

Clermont’s pack features experienced players familiar to South African audiences, such as French front-ranker Rabah Slimani, Argentinean lock Tomas Lavanini, and Wallabies second-rower Rob Simmons.

The Sharks, hoping to boast multiple Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks in their lineup, must avoid complacency against a Clermont side that can be both formidable and flaky.