Labels and previous form have little bearing when Western Province take on the Sharks in Saturday’s Currie Cup final at Newlands.
In eight previous final encounters between the teams there has always been very little in it and this weekend there doesn’t appear to be much separating the two form teams of the competition.
WP have home ground advantage‚ obviously‚ but other than that‚ all the key battles are tight although the styles are contrasting. It will come down to which team successfully imposes its game plan on the other.
The Sharks have game breakers such as fullback Curwin Bosch and wing S’bu Nkosi‚ but they are primarily a team that likes to win the gain line battle and play territory.
WP are happy to attack from all areas of the field if they believe there is an opportunity.
But WP’s attack is built on a rock-solid pack of forwards who have been the dominant scrum in the competition and one of the best lineout units too. They may have flashy X-factor players such as Sergeal Petersen and Damian Willemse‚ but they have grafters as well.
Props Wilco Louw and Ali Vermaak are strong carriers as are lock JD Schickerling and hooker Bongi Mbonambi. The Sharks have the Du Preez twins‚ Jean-Luc and Dan‚ as big target runners to get them over the advantage line but they will have to do some brutal gain line defending themselves against a WP pack that is aggressive and skilled.
With Josh Stander at flyhalf instead of Willemse‚ who has moved to inside centre for this match‚ WP also have a steady tactical kicker who can guide them around the field.
They won’t abandon the approach that has taken them unbeaten through the tournament so far‚ but in Stander they have given the Sharks more to think about.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez probably would’ve planned to face Willemse‚ who likes to take on the advantage line. Now his game plan has to take into account a flyhalf who can play percentages.
The Sharks have a settled look‚ but their selection doesn’t pose any unknowns for WP. They know the Sharks will come hard in contact‚ the set pieces will be a battle and on flyhalf Rob du Preez and Bosch‚ they have two men who can turn them around with the boot.
WP coach John Dobson knows that his side are unlikely to boss the Sharks in contact in one-on-one situations‚ so double hits are his instruction to defenders.
One high‚ chopping the legs and another smothering the offload is the primary defensive plan. It’s easier devised than executed though‚ and it will require total commitment and concentration to ensure there aren’t spaces in other areas if the double hits are not pulled off perfectly.
“We want legal line speed but the key is going to be double-tackles‚” Dobson said. “One guy in high and one guy in low. The low guy stops him and we are generally a double-tackling team.
“We haven’t got a very strong skill set in terms of poaching. That second guy needs to get high and wrap the ball‚ so the first guy stops the carrier and the second guy stops the offload.”
Sharks coach Robert du Preez entered into mind games‚ suggesting that WP don’t like pressure. The obvious question is – who does?
“You have to put Western Province under pressure‚ they don’t like pressure‚” said Du Preez.
“They have played an extra 20 minutes‚ and were stressed for that extra time‚ and they were also playing in the later game last Saturday.
“In a final‚ it all comes down to those one-percenters. And playing at home‚ there is always a lot of pressure on you.”
Western Province: 15 Dillyn Leyds‚ 14 Sergeal Petersen‚ 13 Ruhan Nel‚ 12 Damian Willemse‚ 11 SP Marais‚ 10 Josh Stander‚ 9 Jano Vermaak‚ 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe‚ 7 Ernst van Rhyn‚ 6 Kobus van Dyk‚ 5 JD Schickerling‚ 4 Chris van Zyl (captain)‚ 3 Wilco Louw‚ 2 Bongi Mbonambi‚ 1 Ali Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni‚ 17 Caylib Oosthuizen‚ 18 Michael Kumbirai‚ 19 Salmaan Moerat‚ 20 Jaco Coetzee‚ 21 Herschel Jantjies‚ 22 Dan Kriel‚ 23 JJ Engelbrecht.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch‚ 14 Sbu Nkosi‚ 13 Jeremy Ward‚ 12 Marius Louw‚ 11 Aphelele Fassi‚ 10 Robert du Preez‚ 9 Louis Schreuder (captain)‚ 8 Daniel du Preez‚ 7 Jean-Luc du Preez‚ 6 Tyler Paul‚ 5 Hyron Andrews‚ 4 Gideon Koegelenberg‚ 3 Thomas du Toit‚ 2 Akker van der Merwe‚ 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle‚ 17 Mzamo Majola‚ 18 Coenie Oosthuizen‚ 19 Jacques Vermeulen‚ 20 Luke Stringer‚ 21 Cameron Wright‚ 22 Kobus van Wyk‚ 23 Leolin Zas.