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Rugby | Currie Cup

Looking like a Durban final



There should be enough confidence in the Sharks winning for fans of Western Province and the Lions to book flights to Durban for next week’s Currie Cup final, but it would take a brave person to peg his colours to the mast when it comes to which of those teams will be advancing.

The domestic competition hasn’t always been in the forefront of the minds of South African rugby followers this season but it has reached a fitting finale and a look through the teams as they line up at Kings Park and Newlands on Saturday will tell us why. Take away the contracted Springboks and the players who campaign at this time of year in Japan, and all the teams are pretty much at full strength.

The return of non-contracted Boks has boosted the Sharks and the Lions in particular. Although the Sharks only really get one player back in the form of Jean-Luc du Preez, the big blindside flank will make a considerable difference to the Sharks challenge. And he is part of the reason why the Sharks should be favoured to advance against a Blue Bulls team that has shown astounding growth under John Mitchell but which possibly lacks the necessary grunt up front to match a formidable Sharks pack.

Make no mistake, the Bulls have the personnel at the back to hurt the Sharks should they win enough ball. Even just less than parity could be enough. And neither do you have to delve too far back in the memory bank to when last the Bulls did well at Kings Park. It was when they were last there for a Super Rugby match in July, when they won comfortably. On that occasion Warrick Gelant was outstanding, and the Sharks won’t need to be told which single Bulls player poses the biggest threat to them on Saturday.

But the Sharks, provided they don’t let nerves overcome them in a match which because of the financial boost to the union of hosting the final is more important than the deciding game itself, just look too strong up front and they should repeat their win of a couple of weeks ago in the second round of the Currie Cup.

The Cape Town game between WP and the Lions is a much tougher one to call. The Lions started slowly in the competition but they have been steadily regaining their momentum and the influx of five starting Boks to the match day squad against the Cheetahs last week had the desired impact. They are still a long way off being the same team that made the final of Super Rugby but they are a much closer approximation of it.

WP by contrast only have two Boks back after the conclusion of the Rugby Championship in the form of Wilco Louw and Dillyn Leyds, but they did look stronger on paper at the start of the domestic season than the Lions did. The problem though is that rugby is not played on paper, and by WP’s own admission they have probably underperformed this season. Yes, they did end second and secured a home semifinal, but they made heavy weather of it given the talent they have available.

Their inconsistency through the competition – they lost five games – makes it hard to know what to expect from Province on Saturday, but they feel reasonably confident that last week’s good win over the Sharks in Durban was a turning point. They came from behind in that game and did something they haven’t been good at this season – they closed it off and showed the necessary ruthlessness.

At the same time, the WP players also know that it was they who were desperate at Kings Park, while the Durban players had little to gain from the match and it may thus have been understandable that they didn’t dig deep when the Cape players lifted their ferocity levels and, in the words of Sharks coach Robert du Preez, started to play proper rugby after halftime.

WP and the Lions played out a tense and close Currie Cup final in 2014 and in 2012 Province won a Johannesburg semifinal off the last move of the game. More recently, the two teams played to a draw when they met (WP as the Stormers of course) in what was effectively a South African Super Rugby conference decider at Newlands in 2015. So there is a history of close games between the teams, and that is likely to be the case again on Saturday.

Previews and predictions

Cell C Sharks v Vodacom Blue Bulls (Kings Park, Saturday)

The Sharks have recalled big Kobus van Wyk to the starting team and he should be able to help blunt the threat posed by the sizeable Blue Bull back three. Sharks coach Robert du Preez will be hoping that won’t be too necessary though for his objective will be for the Sharks pack to starve the Bulls of the ball and rely on Curwin Bosch’s improving game management to play the game in the Bulls’ half of the field.

The return of his son Jean-Luc to the Sharks pack should pave the way for his plan to come together. A word of warning: The Bulls are good enough to shock the Sharks if the Sharks are off their game like they were last week, and 2002 provides a historical precedent of the Bulls unexpectedly winning a Kings Park semifinal and then going on to win the Cup. The Mitchell factor should also never be underestimated. The Bulls will have a plan, of that there should be no doubt.

But after last week’s wake-up call the Sharks shouldn’t be off their game, and the Sharks do have a massive advantage when it comes to power and experience where it counts most at this point of a Currie Cup season – namely at forward.

Teams

Sharks: Garth April, Kobus van Wyk, Lukhanyo Am, Marius Louw, Sbu Nkosi, Curwin Bosch, Louis Schreuder, Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Keegan Daniel, Ruan Botha (captain), Tyler Paul, Ross Geldenhuys, Franco Marais, Thomas du Toit. Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Juan Schoeman, John-Hubert Meyer, Jean Droste, Jacques Vermeulen, Michael Claassens, Tristan Blewett, Odwa Ndungane.

Blue Bulls: Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Burger Odendaal (captain), JT Jackson, Johnny Kotze, Marnitz Boshoff, Ivan van Zyl, Nic de Jager, Tim Agaba, Marco van Staden, Aston Fortuin/Jannes Kirsten, Ruben van Heerden, Conraad van Vuuren, Edgar Marutlulle, Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: Johan Grobbelaar, Lizo Gqoboka, Jano Venter, Jannes Kirsten/Eli Snyman, Piet van Zyl, Tony Jantjies, Duncan Matthews, Jon-Roy Jenkinson.

Referee: Quinton Immelman.

Kick-off: 14.30

Prediction: Sharks to win

DHL Western Province v Xerox Golden Lions (Newlands, Saturday)

Malcolm Marx will be returning to the scene of his seismic performance for the Boks against the All Blacks two weeks ago as the man Western Province would surely have identified as the one they most desperately need to stop. However, the match between these two teams in Johannesburg the day after the Bok/All Black test should have been enough to dissuade Province from thinking they are facing a one-man threat.

Promising young lock Marvin Orie for a start poses a big threat and was the man of the match at Emirates Airlines Park (he seems to like playing against JD Schickerling), while Cyle Brink has improved beyond recognition during the course of the domestic season. Kwagga Smith can’t be given space to move, and then of course there are the big and in-form Lions centres, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Harold Vorster. The latter made a big impact when he came onto the field in a Super Rugby clash between these two teams at Newlands on Easter Saturday. The Lions won that game and shouldn’t be too cowed by the thought of playing in Cape Town, even though their first round visit to the city was disastrous (they lost 39-3).

Ultimately though it does provide a massive boost to WP to be playing a play-off game at home. WP coach John Dobson is probably right when he says that if this game was being played in Johannesburg the Lions would start as outright favourites, but home ground advantage could just be the small edge WP need in what should be a tight contest.

Teams

Western Province: Dillyn Leyds, Seabelo Senatla, EW Viljoen, Huw Jones, Ruhan Nel, Robert du Preez, Dewaldt Duenage, Nizaam Carr, Kobus van Dyk, Jaco Coetzee, JD Schickerling, Chris van Zyl (captain), Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements: Ramone Samuels, Ali Vermaak, Frans van Wyk, Jan de Klerk, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Jano Vermaak, Werner Kok, Damian Willemse.

Golden Lions: Andries Coetzee, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Harold Vorster, Courtnall Skosan, Jaco van der Walt, Ross Cronje, Kwagga Smith, Cyle Brink, Len Massyn, Marvin Orie, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen (captain). Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Dylan Smith, Jacobie Adriaanse, Rhyno Herbst, Marco Jansen van Vuuren, Sylvian Mahuza, Ashlon Davids, Robert Kruger.

Referee: Rasta Rastavengha

Kick-off: 17.00

Prediction: WP to win exciting game



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