Finals of course, are finals and anything can happen, but I cannot remember off-hand when last a final was this much in favour of one team. That team of course is the Sharks who has been in sublime form in 2012.
The Sharks started their run of form towards the end of the Super Rugby season where they finished very strongly after struggling a bit in the opening rounds. They reached the tournament final after dismissing the very same Cape side (in a different jersey) they will meet in the Currie Cup final this weekend. This time around however, it’s in their own backyard in Durban where they have been unbeaten this year.
The Sharks comfortably ended top of the log in the Currie Cup with no real problems on the way. They clubbed the Blue Bulls last weekend in the semi-final with the type of authority that almost makes it impossible to bet against them going all the way.
Last week I was asked to name a form Currie Cup XV of 2012 and after some deliberation I finally put 15 names down. Upon reflection I was actually quite surprised how few Sharks players I had in this team given their dominance – but it then dawned on me that the Sharks strength in 2012 is not so much because of individual brilliance, but a total team effort.
Their combinations simply work, the team environment is a happy, settled one, and their approach the most balanced of all SA teams. The team is not dependent on individual brilliance to pull them through matches even though they have a number of really classy players. In short, they are one helluva tough team to beat.
Western Province on the other hand had an up-and-down season. Initially they started like a house on fire with a bunch of youngsters with little to no experience at this level. Somewhere in the middle they suffered a string of losses but through sheer guts managed to secure a semi-final (away from home) and sneak it in the dying seconds of that match to book their final.
I know supporters always expect nothing less than ultimate success meaning that they have to produce trophies, but if you consider that 6 players from the match-day 22 for Western Province still qualify to play U/21 then their fans should be pretty pleased where their team is heading – especially since their U/21 team who are missing these players (Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Damian de Allende, Nizaam Carr and Siya Kolisi) have still managed to make the final of the U/21 competition!
In his selections it is clear Allister Coetzee is expecting a direct assault from the Sharks team who will look to win the collisions. With an almost complete Springbok front-row, and a Springbok capped back-row the Sharks should have no problems in the first phase areas of the game, but if their momentum is disrupted as I suspect is Allister’s plan, WP might be able to cause an upset.
With conditions set to be wet and miserable, I believe WP is expecting and preparing to live of scraps and with dangerous players like Habana, Aplon and De Jongh in open, broken play, it might just work.
For the Sharks their job is simple, the forwards must lay down the platform for Pat Lambie to dictate matters from flyhalf. They will no doubt target WP’s first phase possession at scrums and line out’s and with a young WP front row and a hooker who throws 90% of the time to his number 2 jumper, matters might get very ugly very quickly for WP.
When all is said and done we are set for a fascinating contest with two teams who will approach the game very differently. Where WP will look to disrupt the Sharks momentum and I believe specifically target young Cobus Reinach, as well as shift contact points as quickly and as often as possible. The Sharks will simply look to bully their inexperienced opponents with a direct game and not allow them any ball.
We have seen stranger things happen in rugby and in finals, but I don’t think it will happen this weekend – the Sharks will lift the Cup and for my money win quite comfortably by 10 or more points.