Saturday’s Currie Cup decider between the Sharks and Western Province at Kings Park has all the makings of another classic final, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Durban.
This will be the eighth final between these two coastal foes, and although it’s the hosts who remain clear-cut favourites, recent history has proven that nothing should be taken for granted.
In 2012, Province stuttered through to the playoffs before coming to Durban for a final where they were regarded as rank underdogs. Yet, against the odds, the life was sucked out of the Sharks when Juan de Jongh scored a cracking set-play try to send Province on the way to a 25-18 win.
The year after, though, the Sharks had their revenge. On that occasion, Province went through the competition unbeaten to host the final at Newlands, although this time the Sharks’ then-director of rugby Brendan Venter hatched a clever kicking strategy that enabled the Durbanites to claim a shock 33-19 victory.
Many thought that victory might inspire the Sharks to further trophy success, but it hasn’t quite materialised. In fact, they’ve missed out on the Currie Cup playoffs altogether for the past two years, while Province last lifted the trophy in 2014.
It brings us to what should be an enthralling rematch between these two fierce rivals on Saturday, with this fixture tending to bring out the best in both sides.
While the Sharks dominated the league stage of the competition – losing just two games along the way – they didn’t have it all their own way against Province. The Durban-based side managed just a one-point win in Cape Town earlier this season, while they slipped to defeat against WP in their final round-robin encounter.
That result enabled Province to finally secure a home semi-final after mixing the good with the ghastly at times during the league stage, but they will come into Saturday’s final with confidence after clinically overcoming a dangerous Golden Lions side last weekend.
However, it’s the Sharks who will head into the title decider with not only home-ground advantage on their side, but a very clear understanding of just how to execute a brand of rugby that has worked wonders throughout this season.
As the AllOutRugby statistics indicate, the Sharks have enforced a highly-effective kicking strategy (they are ranked first for kicks made: 290), while complementing this with physical defence and a direct display of blunt force trauma from a powerful pack.
It’s this foundation – which also stems from a sound set piece – that has allowed pivot Curwin Bosch to manipulate play with his natural attacking feel for the game and astute boot. To go with that, his place-kicking and drop-goal opportunism have been out of the top drawer.
For Province to have a chance of upsetting the Sharks on Saturday, they will need to find a way to establish parity up front, while looking to cut down the time and space for Bosch to take control of affairs.
That factor in proceedings will largely come down to the effectiveness of the Western Province defence, which has shown impressive signs of improvement over their last two games (just 25 points and three tries conceded).
What Province do boast is the X-factor among their backs, with the WP match-23 boasting three Blitzboks in Seabelo Senatla, Ruhan Nel and Werner Kok, while Damian Willemse – who reverts to fullback for this match – is one of the most exciting attacking players in South African rugby.
It’s clear to see that all the ingredients are there for a Kings Park humdinger, and while there was some gloomy weather predicted for Durban this weekend, it’s not expected to be a wet-weather affair on Saturday afternoon.
Understandably, the Sharks will be regarded as favourites on their home turf, but the composure and temperament of a young team is set to be tested by a Province side that will have spent all week hatching a plan to execute another Kings Park ambush.
Kick-off is at 16:00.
Sharks – 15 Garth April, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Odwa Ndungane, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (c), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Tristan Blewett, 23 Rhyno Smith.
Western Province – 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (c), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Werner Kok, 23 Dan Kriel.
Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix
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