Saturday’s massive Currie Cup Final showdown at Kings Park in Durban is being billed in some quarters as a battle between the superstar individuals of Western Province on the one side and the strong team work ethic of the Sharks on the other.
Sharks coach John Plumtree seems only too happy to talk down the individuals in his squad – pointing out that the Sharks boast few players of the established calibre of Schalk Burger, Bryan Habana or Jean de Villiers. In fact, if one had to do a player-by-player comparison of the teams (which we will be able to do once the Sharks confirm their lineup), it’s only really in the front row that the Sharks have a clear ascendancy, with three Springboks in Beast Mtawarira and the du Plessis brothers eclipsing their less-fancied Province opponents. The further back one goes, the more obvious the WP individual supremacy becomes, with Willem de Waal the only member of the backline who isn’t a Springbok of recent vintage.
For the Sharks, particularly at the back, Stefan Terblanche and Odwa Ndungane are the only Boks, although neither of them can is in the frame currently.
Ironically enough, though, it’s the Sharks team who boasts more experience in terms of playing in – and winning – Currie Cup finals, with 13 of the anticipated match 22 having been in a final before. Louis Ludik and Andre Pretorius have both played for the Lions in losing final efforts, but 11 other players were in the Sharks 22 when they captured the famous golden cup against the Blue Bulls in 2008. Jannie du Plessis, of course, has quite famously never lost in a Currie Cup final and was understood to be quite annoyed when his “perfect record” of consecutive winner’s medals was brought to a halt by the Sharks’ loss in the 2009 semi. Du Plessis won with the Cheetahs in 2005, 2006 (shared) and 2007 and was also a part of the Sharks squad that won in 2008.
Province, on the other hand, have few players who have played in the Currie Cup final – and none of them have ever done so wearing a Western Province jersey, since the last time the team made it to the final of the premier domestic showcase was in 2001. Both Willem de Waal and Bryan Habana have played in a number of finals, with the former boasting a better win ratio (3/4) than the former Bulls winger, who has only been on the winning side in one of the three finals he’s played. Nobody in the current Province side played in the 2000 or 2001 finals against the Sharks, although current Sharks skipper Stefan Terblanche was there on both occasions. Jeez, how old IS this guy?
The Sharks will be hoping that the shared memory of what it took to win that final two years ago will settle their nerves a little bit more easily than Province’s, since the weight of expectation on the Cape side will be huge, given their massive salary bill, yet relatively poor return in terms of trophies. Teamwork and pride in the jersey have emerged as a hallmark of this year’s campaign, just as it did back in 2008 and with their home crowd in full voice and baying for blood, Sharks fans and management alike will be hoping for the sort of gutsy performance that the Sharks produced against the Bulls two weeks ago. Whether it will be enough to upset a Western Province side boasting individual superstars more numerous than the hairs on my head – any of whom can turn a game with a moment of brilliance – remains to be seen.Tweet