Last year's runners-up the Sharks host WP at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday in what promises to be a thrilling Currie Cup Final.
Last year's runners-up the Sharks host Western Province at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday in what promises to be a thrilling Currie Cup Final.
After beating Western Province at home and away during the league stages of the competition, the home side start as favourites.
Another factor which will weigh heavily on the minds of coach Allister Coetzee and his troops is the fact that the Sharks beat them 30-10 in the 2010 final at the same venue.
Sharks boss John Plumtree, however, believes that the visitors will be no pushovers as they are a good side in various aspects.
“I don't think there is any one area where Western Province will be a specific threat, they are strong in all respects,” he said.
“They have a really big forward pack and X-factor all over the park, similar to what we faced in 2010.
“So there is no one specific area we will be targeting, we know if we don't play well ourselves, or our defence doesn't function well as a group, that can really hurt us.
“If you look at the Habanas, Aplons, Pietersens, there are some really good players in that side, all capable of punishing defensive lapses.”
WP's last-minute win over the Golden Lions in their semi-final has not gone unnoticed and Plumtree believes the manner in which they achieved that result boosted the Cape Town outfit's morale.
“They were down and out with couple of minutes to go, they got an opportunity and nailed it, that would have given them a lot of confidence coming here,” he said.
“They've spoken about the character in their team and that builds confidence. I know there is a lot of talk about us being favourites, we know this is going to be a real final, a real arm-wrestle.”
Coetzee acknowledged that it will take a superb effort to beat the Sharks in their own backyard but he believes his side can upset their hosts.
“We've got to be prepared for everything that the Sharks chuck our way this weekend,” he said.
“It's really going to be a big game. They are a quality side. Their play is built on power and pace and we've got to match that.”
The last time these teams met, the Sharks won 43-27 in Durban – a match which WP finished with 12 men after they received two red and one yellow card.
Coetzee said his side's discipline will have to improve considerably from that match if they want to be successful.
“We must understand that the pressure will be there and we must not lose our cool,” he added.
“We musn't get sucked into off the ball stuff. That's vitally important, good discipline is crucial.”
With rain predicted for Saturday, Coetzee believes the battle for supremacy amongst the forwards could have a huge bearing on the outcome.
“We have got to be accurate in the conditions, we have got to kick well, we have got to chase well, be good in the air, our breakdown work has got to be accurate also and make sure that we give (halfbacks) Nic Groom and Demetri Catrakilis a good platform and good ball,” he said.
“You can only be a true champion if you go away from home and win a Currie Cup trophy. So it is really a matter of applying and understanding that the pressure will be there.”
Players to watch:
For the Sharks: After enduring a frustrating period on the replacements bench with the Springboks during the recent Rugby Championship, fly-half Patrick Lambie gave us a timely reminder of his ability with a polished performance in last week's semi-final victory against the Blue Bulls. Lambie's playmaking skills, ability to vary his play and keen eye for the gap – as proven in the 2010 final – makes him a tricky opponent who should test WP's defence throughout this clash.
For Western Province: If it rains, the performance of Springbok number eight Duane Vermeulen – especially at the base of the scrums – will be crucial. Vermeulen is a powerful ball carrier who enjoys the physical nature of the game. He will be expected to lead WP's onslaught by taking them over the advantage line and also take charge on defence where he is known to put in some big hits.
Head-to-head: The front-row battle is always fascinating to watch and this clash sees WP youngsters Frans Malherbe, Scarra Ntubeni and Steven Kitshoff facing their toughest test yet against Sharks stalwarts Jannie du Plessis, Craig Burden and Beast Mtawarira. The Province trio are all still young enough to play at U21 level but have given a good account of themselves through this season. We'll know after 80 minutes how good they really are.
Previous results (2012):
September 15: Sharks won 43-27 in Durban
August 11: Sharks won 25-23 in Cape Town
Previous finals between the Sharks and Western Province:
2010: Sharks 30 Western Province 10 in Durban
2001: Western Province 29 Sharks 24 in Cape Town
2000: Western Province 25 Sharks 15 in Durban
1995: Sharks 25 Western Province 17 in Durban
Prediction: So much will depend on the battle up front but the Sharks have more experience in several key positions. This and the support of their home crowd will prove decisive. Sharks to win by five points!
The Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Don Armand, 6 Deon Fourie (c), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Marcel Brache, 22 Joe Pietersen.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
By David Skippers