The Durban decider is essentially the Sharks’ to lose rather than Province’s to win
The contrasting styles of coastal rivals the Sharks and Western Province will make for an especially intriguing Currie Cup Final at Kings Park on Saturday.
Dissimilar in tactics yet equally efficient. That is the back story that has led to this captivating clash that will pit the attacking prowess of the hosts against the resolute defence of the visitors.
Last weekend’s semifinals illustrated the finalists’ different approaches with the Sharks giving the ball width in wet conditions against the Blue Bulls and Western Province content to back their defence and play field position against the Golden Lions.
It’s not to say that either side are one-dimensional. The Sharks have epitomised a well-rounded team this season, boasting the best attacking and defensive records in this year’s competition - scoring 32 tries and conceding just 18 during the regular season.
Province showed some attacking zest early in the season but gradually reverted to their conservative style as the business end of the competition grew near, resulting in them scoring 28 tries and leaking 19 heading into the play-offs.
Both teams have the personnel to play a balanced game but predominantly opt to play to their greatest strengths. What has made the Sharks’ attacking brand so successful is that they play in the right areas of the field.
Whereas the Golden Lions were guilty of naively running the ball from inside their 22 at the weekend, the Sharks understand the importance of field position. It’s long been a strength of the Durban side and the Achilles Heel of the men from Johannesburg.
With an in-form Pat Lambie pulling the strings at pivot, the Sharks have the variation to keep the opposition in two minds. Their outstanding back three have also played an integral role in their success.
Louis Ludik is the form fullback in the country and has been consistently outstanding all season. Along with Springbok speedsters JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo, the trio negated the kick-and-chase approach of the Blue Bulls.
Province rely on a similar tactic and would have noted that their tactical kicking will need to be pinpoint accurate. If not, they would simply feed the Sharks possession and leave themselves susceptible to counter attacks.
What would have been particularly pleasing to John Plumtree is the way in which his charges defended the Blue Bulls’ respected driving maul. This is a key feature in Province’s attacking playbook and the move that saw them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at Coca-Cola Park.
The performance at the weekend would have given the Sharks great confidence that they will be able to shut down Province’s driving maul with similar efficiency.
The major concern for the Sharks will be their misfiring line-out. Young Kyle Cooper was erratic in this regard and the Sharks will hope that Springbok tourist Craig Burden will offer greater reliability in this all-important facet.
Province should have the upper hand in the line-outs but are bound to struggle at scrum time. The Cape side were given a working over by the Golden Lions and will be put under immense pressure by a Sharks combination that outclassed their Blue Bulls counterparts and won a number of penalties with their scrummaging nous.
In addition to a powerful tight five, the Sharks boast a brilliant all-Springbok loose trio. Duane Vermeulen had an uncharacteristically quiet game against the Golden Lions and will need to be at his best if Province are to combat the well-balanced Sharks trio.
Given the ascendency they should enjoy in the front and back rows, their attacking synergy between forwards and backs, having a multi-skilled flyhalf and crucial home ground advantage, the Durban decider is essentially the Sharks’ to lose rather than Province’s to win.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld