So as the best two teams this year run out on Saturday in an attempt to catch up with Provinces insurmountable record of wins in the Currie Cup, i felt an objective view of the final might be in order.
A quick review of both squads reveals that bar one or two players plying their trade elsewhere this is the cream of South African rugby and for 80 minutes we should see a battle of epic proportions.
Lets start with the enemy. The Bulls will be in a slightly confused state after Eddie Jones’ visit, as they try and figure out where channel two is, but they will be sure to compensate for this by adding a tad more vigour to their forward game and the violence with which they hit the rucks. If the Sharks can weather what is sure to be a cracking opening 15 minutes they will be considerably closer to achieving that elusive final win. Once you get beyond the Bulls pack and Fourie Du Preez, the team doesn’t look anywhere near being in the same class as the Sharks, but they have been delivering some sublime attacking rugby and the Sharks would do well not to let them get momentum.
The Sharks, what can one say – they are perennial under performers when it comes to crunch time but this team is a year wiser and bar some sloppy performances earlier in the season they seem to have found a pattern that is making them look like a champion team. The return of Kanko has added a dimension to the pack and a link to the pretty boys, they can relate to. It hurts to say it, but the Sharks are a well rounded outfit – the only weakness – their record in finals, which will be nagging in the back of their minds and it will only get worse if they go behind.
The game itself, I suspect, is going to be a kick fest until one of the teams takes a lead that will need tries, not penalties to overtake. Expect the Bulls to spend a lot of time looking for position and relying on Matfield for aerial dominance in the line outs. Hopefully the Sharks will continue with the ball in hand approach and with Kanko hitting form the Bulls could be in for a ragged afternoon if Pienaar, Michalak ,Steyn and Jacobs get on the front foot.
With the EOYT looming, critical players to keep an eye on will be Beast vs Guthro – they are both competing for the same jersey, Beast has proven his class this season Guthro will be looking to continue his barnstorming form to change Div’s mind about who should start for the Boks at loosehead. The scrummies will also be an intriguing battle. Both world class. One a little more instinctive, the other with the ability to direct the game. Ricky won it for us in New Zealand but in any other country he would be a distant third to Pienaar and Du Preez.
Spies vs Kanko should be interesting but personally I think Kanko is the player we should be starting at eight, Spies for all his hype continues to offer glimpses of the player he could be but he tends to disappear when the going gets tough. It’s not worth comparing Steyn and Olivier – Steyn with all his ability can fluff his lines, but the reality is he is a match winner and his part in this final will be crucial to the Sharks success. Habana…doesn’t need an introduction to Sharks fans and if afforded space he will break your hearts again. And finally assuming Bismarck will start, the captaincy and experience of closing out a game that John Smit can bring to the Sharks after 60 minutes could be a deciding factor in ensuring that the Sharks are holding the cup.
My prediction, Durban to be the best place to get hammered on Saturday night.