So it all comes down to this… after 30 regular-season games and two semi-finals, there is only one match left to play in the 2012 Currie Cup Premier Division and it’s the biggest one of all. The Currie Cup Final between the Sharks and Western Province.
John Plumtree has perhaps gambled a little in team selection by making four changes to the starting fifteen that dispatched the Blue Bulls – with some ease – last week. Each of the guys he has brought back, though, has experience in previous finals and in the case of Beast Mtawarira and Willem Alberts, are current Springbok starters. The changes mean that while the match 22 remains very much the same, the balance between strength of the starting fifteen and that of the bench has shifted a little and while the likes of Kyle Cooper and Jandre Marais are form players, they’re perhaps not as formidable on the bench as the likes of Craig Burden, Mtawarira, Alberts or Steven Sykes.
That said, you cannot blame the Sharks coach for picking the strongest team he has available to him for this game and on paper alone, the combination in black and white appears to easily have the beating of Allister Coetzee’s Western Province side, struggling a little for experience given their nightmarish injury toll this season. Rugby is never played on paper, though and players like Steven Kitshoff, Even Etzebeth, Deon Fourie and Duane Vermeulen have been punching hard all season and will continue to do so up front for Province. The Sharks will need to be on top of their game amongst the forwards in order to provide Pat Lambie a platform on which to build a dominant performance.
The battle of the backlines should be superb to watch, with X-factor aplenty in both line-ups. Province have gambled on the untried Damian de Allende at inside centre, but apart from him, both back divisions have a settled and dangerous look, with the match ups in the back three, in particular, a mouth-watering prospect. In Bryan Habana and Gio Aplon, the visitors have a pair of players who have shown the ability to rip Sharks’ defences to shreds in the past. In black and white, though, JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo and particularly Louis Ludik will be keen to show that they are no slouches themselves in the attacking stakes.
The signs here do point to a Sharks victory, though, since the home side have better combinations in the front row, at halfback and at loose forward than their visitors can boast. Add to that the home ground advantage factor and slightly better form going into the game, and we think the Sharks will emerge victorious, by around 8 points.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Don Armand, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Marcel Brache, 22 Joe Pietersen.