And so it was… Many weeks of blood, sweat and tears (we’re talking about the fans here) will draw to a conclusion in the final battle of the 2012 Currie Cup – it’s the East Coast vs the West Coast, the Banana Boys vs the Blue & White Hoops – THE SHARKS vs WESTERN PROVINCE and it’s going down this weekend in the Shark Tank!
In what could be a strange sense of irony, Province could find themselves playing in more familiar conditions come this Saturday – the weather gods have recently been punishing the residents of Durban (most likely for gloating about always having a year-long summer) with some torrid weekend weather and more of the same has been forecast for this weekend. If it plays out as such, defence will be key and accuracy with the boot will be of the utmost importance – wait, scratch that, its finals rugby, both of those factors will be of the utmost importance irrespective of the weather! So, Province will be rolling into town with a largely unchanged team except for the most glaringly obvious switch in midfield – Damian De Allende has been named in place of the mercurial Marcel Brache! It appears to be a bit of a smoke and mirrors move by old AC but a good one nonetheless – if the gamble pays off then it’s a master stroke, if not, well it’s no loss either as De Allende easily fits into the title of utility back and can be shifted anywhere. Province fans will also be hoping for some of that Flyin’ Bryan Habana magic on Saturday – although slightly (VERY) dramatic at times, the veteran speedster found sublime form with the Bokke and the visitors will be hoping he transfers some of that to the local scenario on the weekend. And if ever there was a man on the field with a massive responsibility this Saturday, then look no further than Demetri “It’s All Greek To Me” Catrakilis. This greenhorn will be stepping up to the big stage this weekend and will be hoping that the Gods are with him (and his tactical boot) as he looks to leave a lasting impression on the Sharks….. and Province! We say that given that he will be representing the Watson Rugby Club / Political Friends Association in about 4 month time – Province will be hoping he isn’t casting his mind too far forward. But in reality, like all South African derbies, this game is going to be decided in the engine room – as a practical exercise, take 2 rocks and continually smash them together until 1 breaks and you will have successfully replicated how this match is going to be won. Up front, Province will rely on Duane “Brick” Vermeulan and Jebb “The Terminator” Sinclair (albeit off the bench) to dent Sharks defenders all day. Backing them up will be the recently impressive Don Armand who looks the real deal when it comes to introducing defenders to the dirt and as always, the visitors will look to middle earth resident and captain Deon Fourie! The Captain has been impressive all season, stealing tries and the hearts of hobbits alike – however, his temper is almost as short as he is and he’ll need to keep his (as well as that of some of his senior players) in check to ensure that they keep all XV on the field for the full 80. And a last look at where the real battle will take place; jersey’s 1, 2, and 3… Messrs.’ Malherbe, Ntubeni & Kitshoff – these 3 amigos are going to have their work cut out for them as a rather young front
line Province machine faces off against some wily old pros in the black & white.
Switching to the rundown of the home union this weekend, the Sharks will also find themselves in some familiar territory as well this weekend – they have played a virtually rain ridden home season in the latter stages of this competition and came out on top in all of those swimming matches! In fact, they’ve come out on top in all of their home games this season and actually, to make things a little more onerous for the visitors, Kingspark is slowly turning into a fortress….. The Sharks have only lost 1 Currie Cup match at home in the last 3 years! The silver lining for the Province supporters; that solitary loss was to non-other than the mountain men themselves. But come Saturday, history counts for about as much as our 5 cent piece – absolutely nothing. The Sharks have sported a few finals in recent years and have claimed some silverware along the way – but the big benefit for them, however, is that most of the team running out on Saturday have been a part of that journey. Inspirational & evergreen captain Keegan Daniel is one player in particular who has been a part of the squad for a long time and his absolute disregard for his own personal safety has been key all season. The Sharks are also relishing in the fact that for once in the last 5 years, the playmakers don’t stop after the number 10 jersey – Tim Whitehead & Paul Jordaan are forming a formidable midfield partnership and are effective both on attack and defence! In fact, whisperings are already abound about Mustachio possibly getting his national colours in the near future…. Outside of those 2 spring chickens, the Sharks have been able to rely on one of the standout fullbacks in Currie Cup this season, Louis “Dead Eye” Ludik has been largely ahead of his rivals on recent form and it was glaringly obvious which fullback had the better match last weekend…. Also collecting frequent flyer miles for the black & white dynamite is none other than JP Pietersen – after noticeably transforming into a more aerodynamic shape, the galloping flyer has had an excellent year and is playing like he did when he first broke the scene. But, if we were to look away from the backline to where the Sharks will really be backing themselves this week, then it’d be slightly obvious to state that it’s up front. Tendai “Beeeaaaaast” Mtawarira, Craig “Bosvark” Burden and Jannie “Anger Management”” Du Plessis form an extremely steely front row. The Doctor was subjected to a head scan during the week and came out with a good bill of health and after being eased slowly back into action, Bosvark & the Beast should be firing on all cylinders come Saturday. One area where the Banana Boys are likely to lose the battle up front is in the lock pairing, however, one person who will disagree with us on that is non-other that Anton “Mullet” Bresler. The man with the bowl haircut has, unlike JP Pietersen, become noticeably less aerodynamic but in doing so has added another feather to his cap – expect him to be the one tasked with ruffling the Province Powerhouse – Eben Etzebeth. In the loose forward battle, the Sharks are lucky to have a sublime combination of speed, power & wrecking ball ability. Marcel “Crazy Eyes” Coetzee is phenomenally batshit crazy and he probably won’t any different this weekend. Add the likes of human wrecking balls Willem Alberts & Jean Deysel and you have what will ultimately be an interesting ruck time scenario – ice packs in Durban will be in short supply after this match… Ah, yes – the one man we haven’t discussed, the KZN Wunderkind, Patrick Lambie. As well as being on the walls of teenage girls across the nation (and possibly the walls of some 40 year women), the Michaelhouse product has been one of the main topics of rugby discussion in recent weeks. Make no mistake, he has played exceptionally well since returning to Sharkland and seems to have got his groove back after losing it on a bench somewhere in Argentina but the real test for the youngster (is it still fair to call him that?) will be this weekend. Some will remember the role he played in the 2010 Currie Cup final against these same opponents but will it be misery or mastery for this young gun on Saturday….
So where does that leave us? Tough to say really, it’s finals rugby and as is always the case with these matches, it’s the team that shows up on the day that normally bags it. Province have definitely got a score to settle after they were abruptly booted from the Super Rugby tournament by the Sharks and would desperately like to break the 11 year drought on major silverware that is currently being experienced in Cape Town – the motivation is there but will they follow through…. The Sharks on the other hand have had a fairly successful couple of years recently and although they are still chasing an elusive maiden Super Rugby victory, they have certainly proven to possess the BMT. Playing in front of a home crowd will count for something on Saturday as will the form that they have been collecting, in a nutshell……SHARKS to bag a new drinking vessel on Saturday & claim Currie Cup glory once more!
Fantasy Managers Note
We’ve gone on the basis of home ground advantage here but to be honest – anything can happen. Pick your winner and load your Fantasy team!