Naas feels bullish, Joel believes the Sharks will have too much bite. We give you their views
The Sharks. That’s my pick and I’ll say it straight up.
This is obviously shaping up as one of the most enticing Finals in many a year, a hard one to call because the sides are so evenly matched, but SuperSport asked me to make a prediction and my feeling is that it will be the Sharks.
What decided it for me is the fact that the Sharks have not won the Currie Cup since 1996; that they are still smarting over that cruel loss to the Bulls in the 2007 Super 14 Final; and that, quite simply, they will be desperate to win this one.
It’s time. The Sharks are due, it’s time to stand up and be counted and I believe that element of desperation is going to give the Sharks a vital edge in what is likely to be a closely-fought game. That, and the fact that the Sharks a pretty formidable unit with a tremendous amount in their favour.
The Sharks have such strong leadership. Johann Muller has done an excellent job of being the front man and you can’t underestimate the influence of John Smit. Smitty is one of the great captains in world rugby and the experience he and many of the Sharks players who were part of it gained on their way to winning the World Cup last year will be of inestimable value as the tension mounts. They will have learnt from their mistakes and be able to apply what works.
Another big advantage the Sharks will have is the presence of a key play-maker; an individual who dictates what they do. This is often a vital factor in this kind of one-off game, someone who takes charge and that’s exactly the role performed by Ruan Pienaar. He’s at the core of everything the Sharks do, the catalyst in almost every move, and I see him having a big game.
Fred Michalak, typically French, can be brilliant but in the Sharks set-up he has been more of a link between Ruan and a backline brimming with players capable of pulling off a crucial play – Francois Steyn, Adi Jacobs, JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane.
And then, of course, there’s the steadying influence of Stefan Terblanche at the back. Just like Monty in the Springboks he is the wise old head who settles things down and provides stability. What a marvelous season he has had.
Now I can sense what you’re thinking as you read this. ‘Typical flyhalf, has forgotten the key rule about Finals!’ Not at all. Of course forwards win Finals but the Sharks are extremely well served in the grunt department – in fact if the game were to become tight and attritional (which is more than likely!) the Sharks might even be at an advantage with the bigger set of forwards against the Bulls who give away a bit by playing Derick Kuün and Deon Stegmann.
‘The Beast’, Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis (whether he starts or not) provide so much extra with their strength, the tackles they put in and the way they smash into rucks and mauls and the loose trio is nicely balanced – Jacques Botes the unsung hero who attaches himself to the ball; a big strong carrier in Jean Deysel and Ryan Kankowski who fits any superlative you wish to choose.
The Sharks have good winning momentum, there are no problems in the goal-kicking department plus they have players on the bench – Keegan Daniel, Deon Carstens, Rory Kockott, Smitty or Bismarck, Bradley Barritt, Waylon Murray – who come on and add real impetus.
So for me it’s the Sharks. All teams going into Finals are hungry, but the Sharks will be desperate.
The Bulls. That’s my unsurprising choice to win the Final!
I know you’ll be thinking that there’s only one team for me – after all I played 11 Finals for Northern Transvaal – but weighing up the two teams in what will be an extremely closely contested match I see the Bulls having a slight edge.
The Bulls can match the Sharks in all of the individual contests and will have a trump card in the lineouts but to me there is another aspect that points to there being blue ribbons tied the Cup coming Saturday evening – experience.
The Bulls have such a tradition of being successful in Finals. It is part of the Loftus culture to reach and win Finals and if you look at the record book they’ve seldom played poorly or been badly outdone in crucial games.
Finals are quite unlike league matches. You don’t have to score four tries, you don’t have to worry about bonus points, you just have to win and to me the Bulls are better equipped to play that kind of game.
The Bulls might not have reached last year’s Final but they were there in the previous five years. It’s a unique kind of pressure that accompanies a Final and I cannot emphasize the value of experience enough. And the team with that experience is the Bulls.
And not just the Currie Cup Final. I believe the Bulls winning the Super 14 Final in 2007 will stand them in good stead. They know they can go down to Durban and win. That’s a great mindset to have.
Home-ground advantage is often crucial but in this game it is going to put even more pressure on the Sharks. They haven’t won the Currie Cup since ’96; they were smashed the last time the played the Bulls in a Final (40-19 at Loftus in 2003); and they had the Super 14 snatched away from them. Their fans are expecting them to win, I see the punters are saying it will be the Sharks… and it could work against them. In my day I never wanted my team to be the favourites. In 1990 when we lost to the Sharks at Loftus we were the favourites and it messes with your mind.
The Bulls might have lost their league match 34-25 to the Sharks in Durban, but I have a feeling they’ll be able to analyse that match and draw a lot from it – especially when you think the missed six kicks at goal and conceded a try to Keegan Daniel right at the end that you don’t often see at this level.
I just believe the Bulls know what it takes to win a Final and to me the key individuals will be Victor Matfield, Pierre Spies, Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn and Zane Kirchner.
Matfield should ensure that the Bulls dominate the lineouts and his leadership will play a key role in ensuring discipline. His communication with the referee will be important but I believe he learnt some good lessons about that in the recent test matches.
Fourie du Preez, just like Ruan Pienaar, will play the key tactical role, especially with his kicking, while I’m looking to Pierre Spies to lift his performance and to Zane Kirchner to shine on the big stage. I believe Kirchner has the ability to play for South Africa for many years and there is no better time to show that than in a Currie Cup Final.
And then there’s Morne Steyn. He’s the flyhalf and he’s the man with the most questions to answer. If he comes through there may well be a Springbok cap waiting for him later in the evening so what more motivation could there be for him? It’s a case of cometh the hour cometh the man – the kind of situation I used to love.
Another factor that may work in the Bulls’ favour is the fact they they came through the tougher semi-final. The Cheetahs really pushed them so they know their defensive structures are sound – and you know defence often wins Finals.
It’s often not about how many points you score but about not giving points away. The one thing the Bulls won’t do is give the Sharks the soft tries that have proved so important in their run to the Final. The Sharks will have to work for every point and they’ll have do it for 80 minutes.
I must say I’m really looking forward to the Final because there’s just so little to chose between the two sides. There are so many things that can influence the outcome but I honestly believe that when the Bulls apply themselves they are a Cup Final team who will make the Sharks pay for the sloppiness that sometimes creeps into their play.
What will it take? Application, discipline, determination, the bounce of the ball? – but the one thing I do know about finals is that it doesn’t matter what you did before, it’s what you do on the day.
And I believe the team who will get it right will be the Bulls. My only regret is that I’m not playing anymore because what a game, what an occasion, it promises to be and I would have loved to be part of it.
Two Bok legends, two different opinions. Who do you think will lift the Currie Cup on Saturday?
Courtesy of SuperRugbyTweet