JON CARDINELLI analyses the key match-ups and picks the winner of the Currie Cup semi-final at Kings Park.
The Cheetahs have battled for consistency this season and will struggle against a Sharks side that has been bolstered by the return of several key players.
Much has been made of Frans Steyn's recall. I agree that the Springbok centre will have a big ball-carrying role to play in the No 12 position and that his booming tactical punts will keep the Cheetahs' back three guessing. But the change at flyhalf for a match of this importance will be far more significant.
Pat Lambie battled during the Super Rugby season behind a misfiring pack. He didn't receive many opportunities to regain his confidence or form while with the Boks, and I'm sure there will be questions around his selection for a Currie Cup semi-final.
Nevertheless, I think the Sharks coaches have got this one right. I remember watching Lambie spearhead a Sharks victory in the 2010 Currie Cup final. Consistency has been a problem in the ensuing seasons, but on that day, he showed himself to be the complete package.
This Saturday, Lambie will be playing behind a strong pack. Bismarck du Plessis will set the physical standard and the other forwards will follow.
The Cheetahs have a forward talisman of their own in Adriaan Strauss. I expect that Strauss will be keen to prove a point to the Springbok coach, but I don't think that the Cheetahs pack as a collective will be able to live with that of the Sharks.
Heyneke Meyer will be watching closely. There is the return of Steyn to consider, as well as the intense battle between two Bok hookers in outstanding form. And yet, it could be that the performances of Lambie and Johan Goosen, off the bench, will draw the greatest interest.
Meyer has urged Lambie to work on his game management and it will be interesting to see how the player responds in a match of this nature. Lambie will be expected to play the Sharks into good field positions and then bring that dangerous Sharks backline into the game.
Goosen is still making his way back from injury, but a strong performance for the Cheetahs could be enough to earn him selection for the end-of-year touring squad. As far as this particular contest goes, I doubt Goosen will do enough to help the Cheetahs to an unlikely victory.
The Sharks will win this one comfortably and take some terrific momentum into the final.
MY CALL: Sharks by 10
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 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Stephan Lewies, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Heimar Williams.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Teboho Mohoje, 19 Freddie Ngoza, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Rayno Benjamin.
Photo: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images
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