Despite almost getting mortally gored by the Blue Bulls in the semifinals‚ Western Province remain the team to beat when the Currie Cup comes to a climax in their clash against the Sharks at Newlands on Saturday.
That’s the considered opinion for former Springbok flyhalves and erstwhile Currie Cup winners Joel Stransky and Naas Botha.
Stransky‚ who represented both teams in the final‚ was quick to dispel the notion that he may have divided loyalties.
“I’ve played for both and they are close. For me it is really just a head decision‚” he said.
His head tells him the home ground will count for something even though the visiting team has come up trumps in the three most recent instalments of this match-up in the final. Western Province won at Kings Park in 2012‚ the Sharks returned the favour at Newlands the following year‚ while Western Province continued the trend in Durban last year.
Stransky’s argument however is rooted more in Western Province’s ability to find an extra gear‚ if not conjure some magic when they really need it.
“My head tells me Western Province has been really good this season. They did have a little slipup last week and survived it. They won’t underestimate anyone ever again. They have home ground advantage and they have a bit of X-factor as well.
“The Sharks will be rock steady and solid. They’ll be good upfront and they are not going to do anything wrong‚” said Stransky.
Botha‚ a nine-time Currie Cup winner concurs that Western Province have been the form team.
“I thought WP were unbeatable a few weeks ago. Somewhere along the line they got second chances. They shouldn’t have come through the semi but they did and that happens sometimes‚” he said.
“They played outstanding rugby earlier in the season. Sometimes you need a game like that against the Blue Bulls to make you realise how fallible you are.”
He believes the experience would have sharpened their focus ahead of the final but was quick to add that it would have emboldened the Sharks as well.
“Suddenly you can get belief from watching a game like that. Now it’s in your mind that they can be beat‚” said Botha.
Stransky also thinks walking an elimination tightrope for as long as they did in the semifinal will make Western Province psychologically stronger.
“Undoubtedly. I don’t think that extra time will make any difference to their fitness levels or fatigue. They’ve had their wake up call and their scare‚” he said.
“For a team that has looked unbeatable almost the entire competition to come through that ordeal and escape with a win will mentally put them in good stead. Some teams don’t get that second opportunity.
“The fact that they’ve lived to fight another day means they won’t make those mistakes again.”
Stransky believes Western Province’s game breakers are more likely to impact the result.
“When I look at the Western Province side there are one or two players who can create a bit of magic‚ in influential areas.
“It is about the ability of players who are closer to the action to step up and do something magical when required.
“The Sharks’ magical players are a bit further out. They may not have the opportunity to be influential.
“The Sharks have been quite conservative in the last few months across the board. They play a solid game‚ there is nothing wrong with it and it works for them.
“Western Province have built depth and their strong defensive platform is built on a strong foundation.
“In a final it is about handling pressure. It is about doing basics well. It is about defence. It’s about not conceding.”
On that score‚ Botha believes Western Province have a potential ace up their sleeve in the goal-kicking of utility back SP Marais.
“I haven’t seen place kicking of that quality for a while. The guy who comes closest is Divan Nel from SWD‚” Botha said.
Having been unconvinced by the Currie Cup this season Botha is now looking forward to a spectacle. “The two best teams are in the final. Now suddenly we can look forward to a ‘lekker’ final.”