‘Lions are favourites’

Western Province coach Allister Coetzee says the Golden Lions must be considered favourites to lift the Currie Cup after their semi-final victory over the Sharks. BRENTON CHELIN reports.

It was a strange sentiment to be offered from the coach of the side that topped the log and will enjoy home advantage on Saturday. Speaking at Monday's press conference, Coetzee listed the Lions continuity of selection and scintillating recent form as reasons why they will be considered most people's favourites for the title.

Province have lost just twice in the competition this season, with one of those defeats coming against Saturday's opponents. Despite what the scoreline might suggest about that game at Ellis Park, Province were well beaten.

'The Lions are a helluva in-form side,' said Coetzee. 'They've played superb rugby throughout the competition. I suppose they'll be the favourites this weekend, but we'll do what we've been doing all season.'

At Ellis Park, the Lions played the game at breakneck speed and Province, much like the Sharks at the weekend, simply weren't able to maintain the pace. While Coetzee has highlighted the need for his bench to make an impact, he believes the battle in the trenches will prove pivotal to the outcome of the match.

'It will be important to be accurate at set piece,' said Coetzee. 'To scrum well. Up there we were quite good at scrum time. In order to allow your loosies to be able to do other roles on the field, the tight five have to gain dominance.

'You always want your athletes, whether it's upping the temp or chasing the game, to come on for that second half. But the game will always be based on solidity up front. Scrums, mauling, an extra lineout option – that's what it is at the beginning of a game, an arm wrestle for dominance.'

In the only other meeting between the two sides this season, it was the Cape-based side that came out on top at Newlands. WP's defensive systems managed to keep the Lions' game-breakers quiet for long periods of that match, but with the Lions in such confident mood, that may prove a tougher task on Saturday.

'They like to take a ball-in-hand approach. They'll have a go and ask questions all over the pitch,' said Coetzee. 'They're a side that plays with a lot of freedom. So if passes stick, they can come back and score directly after you've scored. Because of their ability to strike, they won't feel scoreboard pressure.

'We can't allow soft moments – stupid penalties, simple turnovers, unnecessary offsides.'

Saturday's match will be only the second time that Newlands has hosted the final in the past 12 years, with their last home victory in the final coming way back in 2001.

'It's a challenge that we're embracing and that we're excited about. You can't ask for more than running out at a packed Newlands. This side has matured well this season and we're really looking forward to Saturday.'

Photo: Lance Prinsloo/Gallo Images