Skinstad says Sharks’ historic cup success proves South African sides deserve to be on board

Skinstad says Sharks’ historic cup success proves South African sides deserve to be on board

Former Springboks skipper Bob Skinstad says the “magnificent” Challenge Cup triumph by the Hollywoodbets Sharks has fully vindicated the involvement of South African sides in northern hemisphere tournaments.

Skinstand feels his former team delivered a near flawless display in beating Gloucester 36-22 in last weekend’s final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

They became the first South African side to win an EPCR competition and it has earned them a place in next season’s Investec Champions Cup.

“It was a magnificent performance,” said the former back row forward, speaking at a BKT URC round table.

“They were almost flawless. Their individuals really came to the party. I was very pleased for them.

“They delivered the performance when it was needed at the right time.

“After a difficult season, they will be really pleased with what they have been able to achieve.

“It means, despite all the losses in the league and the negativity around that, they are able to leapfrog into the Champions Cup. So they will be delighted and I bet you they will be very competitive at that level.

“If you look at the two finals on the weekend, I feel the Sharks, Leinster and Toulouse were on the same level. That’s got to be positive for the Sharks. They will feel they can be competitive home and away.”

On the historic nature of their trophy triumph, Skinstad said: “I think it’s fantastic and I am delighted.

“I have been an advocate for South Africa’s participation in these leagues for a long time.

“I have spoken before about how good it was for the Stormers to get to the top end of BKT URC. Winning an EPCR tournament is one level up again.

“It’s fantastic kudos to the Sharks to be the first South African team to do that. I think it’s an amazing achievement.

“It just absolutely proves the competition model that’s being tried is on its way to being one that is the best for all the teams that are participating.

“I love it. If the South African teams can compete at that level of EPCR rugby in general, we might have to change that name of just European rugby. It might have to be something to do with the hemispheres.”

He continued: “I have seen some completely unfounded comments about ‘Send the South Africans back to where they came from’.

“I think South Africa brings a lot to the table. It brings good, big, difficult matches.

“We are outsiders, we are latecomers, we are Johnny Come Latelys in these tournaments. But, do you know what, we just won one of them and we have won the BKT URC already and been in the final. So I think we deserve our position.”

John Plumtree’s jubilant Sharks will conclude their league campaign by playing hosts to South African rivals, the high-flying Vodacom Bulls, in Durban on Saturday.

They have only won four of their 17 BKT URC matches this season, but Skinstad believes they will be determined to back up their Challenge Cup success by recording a derby day victory.

“I know John (Plumtree) and he is a very competitive man. He is a born winner,” he said.

“The Bulls at home is a big match for the Sharks.

“I think we will see a full strength Sharks side. We will see them wanting to end the season on a high and being very difficult to beat at home, particularly with their current performance.

“They will be using that to say ‘Ok, let’s prove to ourselves that we should have been further up the table than 13th which we are not very proud of’.

“They are playing the Bulls, who are second, so they will be saying ‘Let’s make sure we give them a good hiding and make everybody sit up and take notice of what the Sharks will be next year’. That’s my gut feeling.”

The other South African derby in the final round of league matches this weekend sees the fifth-placed DHL Stormers entertaining the Emirates Lions, who lie ninth in the table.

On the Stormers, Skinstad said: “I would say, by their very high standards, they have been disappointing. “Even John Dobson has said they have dropped points when they shouldn’t have.

“They will be disappointed that they won’t have a home play-off run, but they will be doing their best to prepare for trying to win away from home.

“Their quarter-final is quite likely to be against the Bulls, if you look at how it stands. It’s still in South Africa, so it’s less travel which is a factor. They have played well against the Bulls a number of times over the last three or four years.

“So you would imagine they give themselves a chance to make it through and then after that it remains the big teams of the tournament they are up against and they have either won or come close to winning against all of them.”

As for the Lions’ play-off hopes, he said: “With them sitting in ninth, they have got quite a lot to do.

“The Stormers at home are a difficult prospect. I haven’t picked the Lions as a team that goes through just based on the probabilities.”

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