Preview: Currie Cup Final

Date published: October 25 2014

Newlands will host its second successive Currie Cup Final when Western Province and the Golden Lions face off on Saturday.

Newlands will host its second successive Currie Cup Final when Western Province and the Golden Lions face off on Saturday.

The home side will be desperate to achieve success, after they suffered a 33-19 defeat to the Sharks in front of their home crowd last year.

To their credit, WP dusted themselves off and put that result to bed and returned with renewed vigour and determination when this season’s tournament got underway in August.

Under the guidance of coach Allister Coetzee – who was at the helm when WP last won the Currie Cup in 2012 – the men from the Cape hit the ground running in this year’s competition and were at the top of the standings for most of the league phase of the tournament.

WP won their first five matches – including a 27-14 victory over the Lions in Cape Town in Round Three – before losing 35-33 to the men from Johannesburg in Round Five.

They did well through the rest of their camapign with their only other blemish on their record coming in the last league match which they lost to the Sharks.

Coetzee is leading WP in to their third successive final – they won the Cup in 2012 after beating the Sharks in Durban – and knows his team have to be at their best to beat the visitors.

“The Lions have been a very consistent team this year – in terms of their selection and performances and we’re expecting a ferocious onslaught from them,” he said.

“They play a similar brand to us, so we should be in for a great final.”

The last time the teams crossed paths in the final of the world’s oldest rugby competition was in 1986 in Cape Town, while they have only met in the final four times since 1939.

Three of these finals were in Cape Town and one in Johannesburg and each team won two, with the biggest winning margin being 13 points.

While a victory would be equally rewarding for either team, Western Province will place a huge emphasis on claiming the title as the last time they won a home final was in 2001, while they will also want to celebrate their captain Juan de Jongh’s 50th appearance in the blue and white hoops in style.

The Lions’ campaign started in style with runaway victories over the Blue Bulls and the Eastern Province Kings which saw them notching a century of points, after just two games before they went down to WP in Cape Town. But that was a minor setback as they soon returned to their winning ways and would suffer only two further losses – away to the Blue Bulls and the Sharks – during the rest of the competition.

Both sides have several matchwinners in their line-up with WP’s backline boasting brilliant attackers like Cheslin Kolbe, Seabelo Senatla and Kobus van Wyk while Nizaam Carr has been their campaign’s most outstanding forward.

For the Lions, flanker Jaco Kriel has had a superb season and he goes into the final as the tournament’s leading try-scorer with nine tries while De Jongh and Lions wing Ruan Combrinck share fourth spot with six tries apiece.

The visitors are playing in their first final since 2011, when they were crowned champions after beating the Sharks, and are determined to continue with what has worked for them this year.

WP, however, have won nine of the last 10 match-ups between these sides at Newlands and that statistic will be a tremendous confidence booster for the hosts.

The Lions come off a morale-boosting 50-20 victory against the Sharks in the semi-final, and will back themselves to put up a brave fight for the trophy regardless of their disappointing track record in Cape Town.

The talk in the build-up to the match had been the ball-in-hand approach of both teams.

Despite finals traditionally being tight affairs,Lions captain Warren Whiteley said they would stick to their expansive style.

“We are not going to shy away from what we’ve been doing throughout the season,” he revealed.

“It’s been working for us and the guys have really done well to identify space and exploit that space.

“That is what we’ve been coached to do throughout the season and I don’t think it would be a good idea to veer far away from that.”

Whiteley said while they would continue to play with width, they would have to work hard to earn the right to go wide.

“A final is a close contest and playing against a side like Western Province with a fantastic defensive record means you are not going to get through the first couple of phases, like we’ve been doing over the last few weekends,” he added.

“We will really have to work hard and be patient with ball in hand to break that wall and I think that goes for our defence as well.”

Previous results (2014):

September 13: Golden Lions won 35-33 in Johannesburg
August 23: Western Province won 27-14 in Cape Town

Ones to watch:

For Western Province: The hosts possess several attacking threats but one player who is expected to have a huge influence on the final is their diminutive full-back Cheslin Kolbe. The former SA U20 and Blitzbokke ace came into the Currie Cup hungrier than most players after missing most of the Stormers’ Super Rugby campaign due to a knee injury. He has been in top form for WP throughout the tournament and is dangerous with ball in hand with a wicked side-step and superb appreciation for space his main weapons. If he is on form it could be a difficult afternoon for the Lions on defence.

For Golden Lions: He kicked his heels on the replacements bench for most of the season but Lions centre Howard Mnisi has been in superb form in recent weeks. The former Griquas man impressed in the Lions’ win over the Free State Cheetahs two weeks ago but took his game to another level in last weekend’s semi-final thrashing of the Sharks and delivered a man-of-the-match performance in the process. Mnisi has thrived under Johan Ackermann’s attack-minded approach and his vision and fine ball skills is expected to unlock WP’s watertight defence. Also an accomplished defender his midfield battle with former Lions stalwart Jaco Taute should be one of the highlights of the final.

Head-to-head: Both sides have superb back row forwards who have excelled throughout the season. WP’s trio of Nizaam Carr, Michael Rhodes and Rynardt Elstadt are the more physical combination with Rhodes and Elstadt selected in a bid to help the home side dominate the forward battle while Carr is expected to provide the flair at the base of the scrum. The Lions’ loose forwards Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and Derick Minnie are more athletic and present a bigger threat on attack. Whiteley and Kriel are explosive runners whose linking play with their backline make them dangerous while Minnie is always a threat at the breakdowns. The number eights – Carr and Whiteley – have had stellar seasons and their decision making could have a huge influence on the result.

Prediction: With both sides employing expansive game-plans, this should be an open attacking