The ninth Currie Cup final between Western Province and the Sharks is poised to be another thriller.
On paper it should sit alongside some of their epic battles in the past‚ as the competition’s two best teams clash for the 2018 title.
Province beat the Sharks 50-28 at Newlands in the Pool phase earlier this season‚ but that scoreline flattered the hosts as the Sharks trailed by three points midway through the second half.
The fact that Province finished so strongly is something the Sharks have to learn from – knowing that they have to compete for the full 80 minutes against the defending champions.
This will be the fifth Currie Cup final between the sides this decade‚ cementing the contest as the No 1 modern rivalry in the tournament.
So where and what are the key contests of Saturday’s battle?
It’s obvious that the set piece should be a key battleground but Provice have used their scrum even more devastatingly than is the norm this season.
Tighthead Wilco Louw has been one of the most influential players in the entire tournament while loosehead Ali Vermaak has also enhanced his reputation.
The pressure that Province applies at scrums leads to penalties and that in turn leads to momentum for the 34-time Currie Cup champions.
From there‚ their silky backs have been able to wreak havoc.
The Sharks though have the one scrum in the competition that could match Province.
The key for the Durban men‚ is to match them for a full 80 minutes.
Verdict: Western Province
2. Gain line battle
The Sharks have some big target runners with a game based on gain line ascendancy.
With Jean-Luc du Preez fit again‚ he is set to join twin brother Dan as big carriers while the likes of tighthead Thomas du Toit‚ hooker Akker van der Merwe and centre Marius Louw also hit the line hard.
It’s not that Province don’t have their own bludgeons‚ but their game is more about width.
Province are well aware they need to make sure they are not bullied on the gain line to set up victory.
3. Tactical kicking
Sharks scrumhalf Louis Schreuder is probably the most astute tactical kicker on the field while flyhalf Rob du Preez also likes to turn opponents around.
Western Province flyhalf Damian Willemse is still honing his kicking game but reserve flyhalf Josh Stander is perhaps the best tactician available‚ although he is unlikely to start.
Province are not hell bent on playing from superior field position although they are not naïve either.
They won’t throw the ball around at all costs and admitted they need to be a little more tactically aware.
The Sharks will keep looking for field position but even if they edge it‚ are they good enough to make it count?
Between Sergeal Petersen‚ Willemse‚ Dillyn Leyds and SP Marais‚ Province have superior game breakers.
Those players don’t need acres of space or lots of time to make big plays that can hurt opponents from anywhere.
The Sharks are more structured and predictable on attack‚ which is why they can’t allow the game to become loose.
Verdict: Western Province
Finals are often decided by thin margins and both goal-kickers – SP Marais for Province and Rob du Preez for the Sharks – are going to be under scrutiny.
Marais has landed 42 from 52 kicks at goal this season (81%) while Du Preez has kicked 26 out of 30 (86%).
As the latter has had significantly fewer shots at goal‚ his slightly higher percentage is negligible.
Verdict: A draw