Preview: CC Final, Sharks v WP
Preview: CC Final, Sharks v WPSHARE
Western Province will have to produce something special if they are to prevent Sharks captain Keegan Daniel from lifting the Currie Cup on Saturday.
Take a look at the Sharks' home record and you realise what a tough task Allister Coetzee's team faces at Kings Park this weekend.
The Durban side have lost just once at home this year – to eventual Super Rugby champions the Chiefs, and the only team to beat them at home in the last three Currie Cup seasons was Province who gained some hollow revenge last year after being outplayed in the 2010 final.
Forget about the Sharks not pitching up either because after losing two away finals in last year's Currie Cup and Super Rugby this year they will be intent on making the most of their home advantage.
Both of the matches between the sides this year were affected by rain, and the Sharks certainly exploited the conditions best on both occasions, with their superior kicking and ability to take their opportunities giving them the edge.
John Plumtree's proposed sabbatical after Super Rugby never materialised as his second-stringers put together some impressive performances, and as in Super Rugby they hit form at the right time to surge to the top of the standings.
With the Boks gradually introduced over the play-offs they now stand poised to cap a good year off with some silverware, whether they will acknowledge their favourites tags or not.
However, to consider that there is only one side in this Currie Cup Final would be pretty foolish, as despite the odds being stacked against them Province do have some serious firepower and showed good mental strength to snatch a late victory in Johannesburg last week.
Province have been talking all season about adding more of an attacking element to their highly structured approach, but still have a way to go to match the Sharks whose fluid style saw them top the try-scoring list.
The key to how this final will be played lies in the fact that Province have to make something happen. If they sit back and trust their renowned defensive system to absorb the pressure the Sharks will use their power and their pace to find a way through.
Coetzee's big move was to pick rookie centre Damian De Allende who will be expected to make the most of his physicality on top of creating something of a distraction in an attempt to unsettle the Sharks.
Although it will be viewed by some as a desperate gamble, the reality is that De Allende is likely to play a simple and direct role, with the senior players dictating play.
It might not pay off, but it does at least give the Sharks something to think about and is certainly worth a shot considering how far conservatism got them in the Super Rugby semifinal.
Coetzee said that he does not expect the selection to bother the Sharks too much, but explained that De Allende's role will be fairly straight forward which means the performance of the players around him will be more important.
"It is a bit difficult if you don't know much about your opponent but I don't think that it is something that will give them [Sharks] sleepless nights.
"You don't want to give Damien too much responsibility, he has just got to play. He has got to defend well, he has got to carry well and know his stuff – where to be and that is what we expect.
"I know that teams will target players who are playing or starting for the first time but all our youngsters have shown so much composure throughout the season and therefore I am not really worried.
"He has got Juan de Jongh, he has got Bryan Habana and he has got a pack that must make sure they lay a good foundation and he must just go play and enjoy himself," he said.
With wet conditions expected at Kings Park again the territorial battle will be key and Coetzee knows that his side have to sharpen up in this regard against an accurate Sharks side.
"Most people think the Sharks are this team that play this running brand of rugby but they are the team that kicked more than the Bulls, so I don't think one should be misled by anything," he said.
Coetzee believes he knows what it will take for his side to win, but it is only once he says it all that you realise how tough it will be for them on Saturday.
"We have got our plans in place and we have got to go execute that – the little battles that I am talking about – it is the set-piece, it is the breakdown, it is where you want to play the game.
"We have got to be prepared for everything that our opponents would chuck our way this week, it is really going to be a big game, they are a quality side. Their play is built on power and pace and we have got to match that.
"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 also got to be accurate also," he said.
Players to watch:
For the Sharks: Their massive pack is littered with Springboks, in the front row look for a revitalised Tendai Mtawarira in his first start since the Soccer City Test, and you can be sure that running a support line off his shoulder will be talismanic captain Keegan Daniel. Just about every backline player has hit good form this season but the spotlight will be on Pat Lambie who led them to victory from flyhalf in 2010. With the conditions in mind the skills of fullback Louis Ludik will be key and if he can put either wing in space then Province will have some scrambling to do.
For Western Province: The front row will have a big task at scrum-time and they will look to enforcer Eben Etzebeth to help combat the Sharks' power. Captain Deon Fourie could pose a threat at the breakdown, and he will be supported by the combative Duane Vermeulen. Demetri Catrakilis will have to show composure under pressure, but their biggest hope comes in the form of some magic out wide from Bryan Habana and Gio Aplon.
Head to head: The clash at scrum-time between young Steven Kitshoff and the experienced Jannie du Plessis will be crucial whilst at the back of the scrums both Daniel and Vermeulen will be expected to get their team on the front foot. The two young scrumhalves – Cobus Reinach and Nic Groom – will both want to rise to the big occasion, and on the wing springbok stars Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen will square off.
Recent Currie Cup results:
2012: Sharks won 43-27 in Durban
2012: Sharks won 25-23 in Cape Town
2011: Western Province won 15-10 in Durban
2011: Sharks won 21-19 in Cape Town
2010: Sharks won 30-10 in Durban
Road to the final:
Round One: Western Province 23-25 Sharks
Round Two: Sharks 30-14 Golden Lions
Round Three: Blue Bulls 42-31 Sharks
Round Four: Sharks 34-32 Free State Cheetahs
Round Five: Griquas 22-15 Sharks
Round Six: Sharks 43-27 Western Province
Round Seven: Golden Lions 28-22 Sharks
Round Eight: Sharks 13-12 Blue Bulls
Round Nine: Free State Cheetahs 30-37 Sharks
Round 10: Sharks 42-3 Griquas
Semifinal: Sharks 20-3 Blue Bulls
Round One: Western Province 23-25 Sharks
Round Two: Griquas 20-25 Western Province
Round Three: Golden Lions 26-23 Western Province
Round Four: Western Province 42-6 Blue Bulls
Round Five: Free State Cheetahs 22-29 Western Province
Round Six: Sharks 43-27 Western Province
Round Seven: Western Province 45-21 Griquas
Round Eight: Western Province 9-22 Golden Lions
Round Nine: Blue Bulls 26-13 Western Province
Round 10: Western Province 36-15 Free State Cheetahs
Semifinal: Golden Lions 16-21 Western Province
Prediction: Province will throw everything at them and should get closer than many expect, but the Sharks simply have too much momentum and should take this one by more than five points.
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 (captain), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandré 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 (captain), 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.
Date: Saturday, October 27
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Overcast with a chance of rain, 17 C, wind of 15k/ph
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Christie du Preez, Stefan Breytenbach
TMO: Johann Meuwesen
By Michael de Vries