ANDRE-PIERRE CRONJE previews this weekend’s Currie Cup final clash between the Sharks and Vodacom Bulls, taking a look at the key battles.
Bulls vs Sharks
The Bulls come into the final favourites after topping the log in the regular season and having secured a 26-21 semi-final victory over the Lions. The men from Pretoria dominated for large parts of that game with the scoreline somewhat flattering the visitors.
Nevertheless, it was far from a complete performance and Jake White will expect his charges to be a lot sharper this weekend.
In the other semi-final, the Sharks squeezed past WP in a turgid affair at Newlands. Sean Everitt’s men lacked accuracy last week and will hope to find it on Saturday if they are to challenge the Bulls. They have grown in confidence as their season progressed and, despite a slip-up against the Cheetahs, have looked the other form team in the competition.
The odds will be stacked against the Durbanites at Loftus where they have been soundly beaten in their previous two encounters. ‘Fortress Loftus’ has become a stronghold for the Bulls, with the team not having lost a game there since rugby’s resumption.
The Sharks did, however, come away victors the last time these two sides faced off and will take confidence from their close-fought encounter in Durban.
The Bulls, who missed a kick to tie that game, will be out for revenge. They’re targeting a Currie Cup victory to complement their Super Rugby Unlocked title and cement their position as South Africa’s best domestic team.
Despite their victories, both the Sharks and Bulls struggled at scrum time this past weekend. It’s an area of traditional strength for both teams and one that they will have undoubtedly been working on this week.
All four starting props are capped Springboks and will be looking to get the edge over their rivals. Ox Nche squares off against Trevor Nyakane while the returning Lizo Gqoboka will front the mammoth Thomas du Toit.
A solid set piece is an invaluable attacking platform for both sides – so, although cliched, whoever wins the contest up front will have the advantage.
Elsewhere in the pack, there may be a bit of extra attention paid to the battle between Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen and young Sharks flank Dylan Richardson. The last time the two sides met in Durban, Richardson managed to get under the skin of the usually unflappable Vermeulen. The veteran eighthman will be looking to settle the score this time around.
Out wide, Sbu Nkosi and Yaw Penxe are up against two rising stars in Stravino Jacobs and Kurt-Lee Arendse. The Sharks duo are the more experienced of the two and Nkosi spoke this week about the edge that that may afford them. He feels the Bulls wings still have much to learn and will surely relish the opportunity to teach them those lessons come Saturday.
It wouldn’t be finals rugby in South Africa without two deadeye kickers. In Morne Steyn and Curwin Bosch, the Bulls and Sharks have two of the best in the business.
Bosch, renowned for his ability to kick points from distance, was slotting them from 60 metres out against the Lions. With the benefit of altitude, the Bulls will know that any penalty conceded within 70m could well mean points.
Steyn, for his part, has made a career from slotting pressure kicks in the biggest moments. He may need to draw on all his experience to see his side home on the weekend.
From a personal perspective, Steyn will be motivated by the prospect of having one last chance at representing South Africa. Outplaying his biggest competitor for that jersey, Bosch, would strengthen his case for inclusion in a Springbok squad.
15 David Kriel, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Schalk Erasmus, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Jan Uys, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Marnus Potgieter.
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (c), 12 Marius Louw, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Dylan Richardson 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 JJ van Mescht, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Fezokuhle Mbatha, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Michael Kumbirai, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Manie Libbok.