For both the Sharks and the Bulls, months of preparation, hour upon hour of training and over
1 000 minutes of game-time will culminate on Saturday afternoon in what promises to be one of the grandest sports spectacles of the year, the Absa Currie Cup final.
What a journey it has been for these two giants of South African rugby! Both have produced some magnificent performances this season, both deserve to be in the final and both would be worthy winners of the 116-year-old trophy, writes Craig Lewis for IOL.
So what will be the deciding factor?
World Cup-winning coach Jake White has suggested it could be the accuracy of the goal-kickers, while perennial Currie Cup winning captain and coach Naka Drotske believes defence, discipline and taking your opportunities is crucial.
Springbok legend Naas Botha has suggested the Bulls’ experience and culture of winning finals will give them the edge while ex-Springbok captain Wynand Claassen has said handling the profound pressure will be vital.
The predictions and suggestions have certainly flown thick and fast this week but, Gary Teichmann, who led the Sharks to their last Currie Cup victory in 1996, issued an acronym that the coastal franchise would do well to take cognisance of. K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple Sharks.
“It’s so important that the Sharks just stick to what they’ve been doing and what’s worked for them over the last few weeks,” he said.
“If they can just stick to the basics and take the emotion out of it, they should be alright.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment and get too emotional, it’s very important that the players are well managed to ensure this doesn’t happen.
“In 1996, when we played Transvaal in the final, they let the emotion of the occasion get to them and we came out on top as a result.”
Teichmann also said the Sharks should not think twice about confronting the Bulls head-on in every department.
“We must beat them at their own strengths, the lineout in particular, but also at the breakdowns and the scrum.
“If the Sharks ensure that they win every one of their lineout throws in the first 20 to 30 minutes it will keep their exceptional game-breakers in the picture and that is crucial early on.”
Indeed, the Sharks certainly have no shortage of stars in their match-day 22 that has been predictably retained from their October 11 semifinal against the Lions.
Now, with finality, we can preview some of the crucial areas of the game.
First, the scrum, common opinion is that the Sharks have the edge and rightly so, in the front-row they boast the type of depth and ability that the Bulls simply can’t match. Both props, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis, offer something special during scrum time, on defence and with ball in hand, as does the mighty Bismarck du Plessis.
There may be some degree of parity in the second row, though, as there is little to choose between the Sharks’ duo of Johann Muller and Steven Sykes, and that of the Bulls’ Victor Matfield and Danie Rossouw.
However, Matfield is an unmatched force in the lineout, but as Teichmann alluded to, the Sharks can ill-afford to allow Matfield and company to disrupt this crucial attacking platform.
The battle at the breakdown, as always, will be an area of interest as you can rest assured that Bulls flankers Deon Stegmann and Wikus van Heeden will be intent on denying the Sharks the quick ball that they thrive on.
The Pretoria-based team have also proven themselves to be the most defensively sound outfit in this year’s competition but Saturday, not only will they have to combat the Sharks’ all-international backline, but for the first time they will have to find a way to halt the penetrative ball-carrying duo of Ryan Kankowski and Jean Deysel.
Kicking, both out of hand and at posts, will also be absolutely critical, with the Bulls’ Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn sure to be focused on driving the Sharks back into their half, forcing them to contest lineout after lineout close to their tryline.
However, through Ruan Pienaar, Frans Steyn, Stefan Terblanche as well as Frederick Michalak, the Sharks are certainly capable of launching their own ground-to-air assault and do not be surprised if a couple of big drop-goals or field-goals from the prodigious boot of Steyn proves to be the difference tomorrow.
In the end, though, the desire, the hunger and the full-blooded, single-minded desire to win should come to the fore and in this regard the Sharks should have the edge over the Bulls, the edge that should see them lift a trophy for the first time in 12 years.Tweet