Jaco Kriel and the Golden Lions forwards will push WP to the brink in the Currie Cup final at Newlands this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Consider the tournament stats. The Lions boast the best record in terms of tries and points scored. Compared to Western Province, they've conceded fewer tries over the course of the season.
They have the tournament's top try-scorer in Jaco Kriel. They possess the most powerful scrum in the competition, and a backline capable of laying waste to any defence. They are a side with momentum, and the form side of the 2014 Currie Cup.
All of which counts for nothing heading into a final.
It's been some time since the best team over the course of the competition has claimed the domestic crown. Indeed, the past two finals have been won by the best team on the day.
WP recorded an emphatic upset in the decider played at Kings Park in 2012, while the Sharks emerged victorious in the final staged at Newlands in 2013. The Lions have been the best team on show in 2014, but there is a strong possibility that they will fall short of their objective this weekend.
They will pressure WP at the set pieces, and at the contact point. If the tight five enjoys success, Kriel will come into the game both as a ball-carrier and as a forager.
The flanker is quick off the mark, and his ability to force turnovers at the breakdown has allowed the Lions to counter-attack and capitalise when the opposition defence is at its weakest.
The Lions loose forwards and backs have combined to score some outstanding tries. In Marnitz Boshoff, the Lions have a flyhalf capable of translating forward dominance into territory and points.
If Kriel and the Lions forwards succeed in overpowering their WP counterparts, the hosts could be in for a long evening. Province cannot hope to contain the Lions attack if they are losing the collisions.
Having said that, it would be madness to attempt to match the Lions' high-tempo approach. This could lead to turnovers that allow the Lions counter-attacking opportunities.
This Saturday is not just any rugby match. It's a final, and contrary to what's been said by both teams in the buildup, tactics must be adjusted accordingly.
For WP, there must be a drive to stifle the Lions at the contact point. WP must strive to play the majority of the game deep down in Lions' territory.
They have the right man at No 10 for an occasion such as this, as Demetri Catrakilis has what it takes to play his team into the right areas.
Catrakilis was the difference in the 2012 final, kicking some important goals from the tee as well as a valuable drop goal off the wrong foot. He was less of a factor in the 2013 decider, but then this was hardly surprising given the failure of his forwards to front.
The WP pack has something to prove this week. In recent seasons, the Cape side has often faltered at the final hurdle. Further analysis will reveal that on each of those occasions, the forwards haven't pitched up mentally or physically.
Catrakilis has shown that he has what it takes to kick a championship-clinching goal. The WP forwards need to provide him with the opportunity to do so.
Motivation shouldn't be a problem. WP are playing at home, and should be desperate to win the title after such a poor Super Rugby campaign. Lest ardent Cape rugby supporters forget, the Stormers finished 11th this past season, their worst showing in eight years.
The Lions have the much-vaunted pack and the crowd-pleasing attacking game plan. Whether they have enough experience in their lineup to negate WP's desperation to succeed as well as a crucial home-ground advantage is another story.
The Lions will play the better brand of rugby and push WP close, but ultimately the hosts will find a way to win.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2014: Lions won 35-33 (Johannesburg)
2014: WP won 27-14 (Cape Town)
2013: WP won 33-16 (Cape Town)
2013: WP won 36-23 (Cape Town)
2013: Draw 31-31 (Johannesburg)
KRIEL'S CURRIE CUP STATS THAT MATTER
9 – The number of tries he's scored in this year's tournament (Rank 1)
13 – The number of clean breaks he's made (Rank 1)
84 – The number of ball-carries he's made (Rank 7)
16 – The number of defenders he's beaten (Rank 1)
10 – The number of turnovers he's won (Rank 2)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Michael van der Spuy.
Golden Lions – 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Mark Richards, 22 Harold Vorster.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images