Western Province’s main challenge in the Currie Cup Final this weekend is likely to come from two men who have worn the captain’s armband at various stages in their career – both of whom are also Bok greats and talismanic players able to lift those around them.
Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers are the key forward and back respectively around whom the WP charge is likely to centre and they are the men that the Sharks will need to nullify in order stand any chance of winning the Currie Cup for the second time in three years. The reality is, that while Province undoubtedly boast experienced players and exciting attacking threats across the park, it is the duo of Burger and de Villers who really stand out as the ones on whom this team’s lofty reputation rests. Bryan Habana is, of course, also a battle-hardened Springboks – and worryingly for the Sharks, seems to be finding form again – but if you were to choose two players whose names are the most likely to stand between the Sharks and Currie Cup glory, you’d go for Burger and de Villiers.
Rugby matches are never won on paper, of course, making it a pretty futile exercise to compare the names on the respective team sheets and try to use a comparative analysis if those to pick a winner. The fact is, a final is always a 50-50 game and this one will be no different. What is for sure, though, is that senior players who have been there before can be crucial in tipping the balance one way or the other. They are the guys to whom their less-experienced team-mates look up and while I feel the Sharks have a more experienced team overall, the fact is, they are lacking individual players of the calibre of Burger and de Villiers, particularly since neither John Smit nor Johann Muller will be there. Stefan Terblanche is the closest the Sharks have and his task on the day will be truly immense. With the loss of JP Pietersen to injury, the Sharks can now only call on the du Plessis brothers when it comes to players who have experienced winning the most important final of all – the Rugby World Cup. Province have Habana and Burger and although de Villiers never quite made it that far, he has certainly played in more pressure games for the Boks than I’ve had hot dinners.
Something else that might tip this in the home side’s favour, though, is the fact that nobody in the current WP squad has ever played in a Currie Cup final, much less won one. The core of the Sharks team, including Terblanche, the du Plessis’s, Keegan Daniel, Ryan Kankowski and Odwa Ndungane were there just two years ago. Perhaps the nerves across the team in black and white might be just that little bit more settled going into this game.
Whatever the case, for the Sharks, nullifying Burger and de Villiers simply has to be a huge part of the game plan – although not to the extent that focusing on individuals allows the visitors to dominate the tactics and flow of the game. Simply put, guys like Daniel, Willem Alberts and Dries Strauss are going to have to put in the sort of huge performances that we’ve expected from them all season, in order to apply the sort of pressure on these Province talismans needed to ensure they make mistakes. Get that right and the Cup is staying in Durban. Simple as thatTweet