JON CARDINELLI analyses the key match-ups and predicts the winner of the 2013 Currie Cup final.
Do Western Province have the material to win Saturday's Currie Cup final at Newlands?
PERFORMING UNDER PRESSURE
It's a question that's been asked ahead of many a play-off involving the Cape side. Do they have the mettle to handle the pressure, or will they crumble under the weight of expectation?
A fantastic and unexpected win in the 2012 final challenged the perception that Province are perennial chokers. That achievement would have given them confidence as they head into another decider that could be even more demanding, as it will be staged at a venue that hasn't witnessed many knockout victories in recent seasons.
The time has come for WP to embrace the pressure. As former Stormers and WP prop Rob Kempson told this website on Thursday, Province must use that passionate Newlands crowd to their advantage. They must feed off that energy and use it to transfer the pressure on to the Sharks.
The first 20 minutes of this Saturday's final are going to be immense in this respect, for the Sharks will be aware of WP's perceived mental frailties.
If the Sharks start well and build a 10-point lead, they will succeed in silencing that crowd. They will put Province in a position where they will need to play catch-up rugby.
Who could forget what transpired in the 2010 final at Kings Park? The Sharks put two tries past WP and raced to a 20-3 lead inside the first 20 minutes. It was a blow from which the visitors never recovered, as they went on to lose 30-10.
ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES
Most WP fans will want to forget that game and focus on the more recent final in which WP proved their worth.
The 2012 final was very different in that an underdog WP side managed to roll with the punches during those initial stages, and then deliver some telling blows of their own in the second stanza.
The knockout punch was landed by WP flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, and I expect 'the Greek' will have another big part to play in the 2013 heavyweight fight.
The Sharks will place an emphasis on those first 40 minutes. They will look to impose themselves physically and build as big a lead as possible. They will know that if they can go to the half-time break with a big advantage, it will force WP to alter their game plan and take uncharacteristic chances.
However, if WP absorb the pressure, if they can live with the Sharks in the first half, then it is they who will go to the half-time break with the edge.
The Sharks will come to Newlands with a starting pack that includes six Springboks. They will be expected to boss the scrums, and will feel confident that they can win the collisions and breakdowns with the likes of Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts in their ranks.
They should live up to the expectation at scrum time, but the gainline honours may be shared. Province possess a few notable bruisers of their own. Watch out for Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen, and even Schalk Burger off the bench giving as good as they get.
CATRAKILIS TO EDGE LAMBIE
A number of pundits feel it is too close to call, and I would agree in the sense that the two sets of forwards should cancel each other out. It is rather how either team use its forward platform which will influence the outcome. And it is here where Catrakilis and Pat Lambie will need to step up to the plate.
Lambie has won a Currie Cup for the Sharks before, producing a complete showing in that 2010 final. Unfortunately for the Sharks, he has not produced a performance as dominant or influential since then.
His game-management will be under the spotlight this weekend. It could mean the difference between winning and losing for the Sharks, and could also be significant in the context of Lambie's ambitions to settle at No 10 for the Boks.
While Catrakilis hasn't played Test rugby, he does have the experience of having guided WP and the Kings, during the 2013 Super Rugby season, to some monumental wins.
He's one of the best goal-kickers in the country and his tactical-kicking game will be an asset to WP this Saturday. The Sharks should also be wary of his ability to kick drop goals at any stage of the contest.
The forward contests will be fierce and absorbing, but it is the performance of the two 10s that will have the greatest bearing on the result.
Catrakilis has shown that he can handle the pressure, and that he wants the responsibility of making that decisive play. Don't be surprised if he kicks the winner in what will be a momentous victory for WP.
Western Province – 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jean de Villiers, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Deon Fourie (c), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Frans Malherbe, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Michael Rhodes, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Juan de Jongh.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Stephan Lewies, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Heimar Williams.
Photo: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images
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