Loose trio key in Cup final
John Bishop – The Witness
Durban - The bruising battle of the backrows will have a profound impact on Saturday’s Currie Cup final between the Sharks and Western Province at Kings Park.
The Sharks and the Cape Town-based team have met on three occasions this year, once in the Super 14 and twice in the Currie Cup, and on each occasion the result has gone to the team dominating the collisions on the gain-line.
In mid-May the Sharks upset the high-riding Stormers in the Super 14, beating them 20-14 in Durban.
Stormers captain Schalk Burger and coach Allister Coetzee acknowledged that the game was the toughest of the Super 14 and conceded they had been out-muscled on the day.
"That was by far the most physical game we have played this year,” said Coetzee. “The Sharks placed us under enormous pressure and we could not hold onto the ball.”
Burger said that the Sharks had “pitched on the day and we did not”, while Sharks coach John Plumtree said his players had been “able to take care of the Stormers at the breakdown”.
He paid tribute to his big men on the day, the two strong back-rowers, Jean Deysel and Willem Alberts, Beast Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis and John Smit, who successfully snuffed out Province.
The Sharks stayed with the winning recipe in the first round of the Currie Cup, coming away with a 27-16 win and, as in the Super 14, the final scoreline flattered the men from the Cape.
“The game only really caught alight after 45 minutes when we started taking them on up the middle and then winning the collisions,” Plumtree said. “I think that was probably the difference at the end.”
But, in the second round Currie Cup game in Cape Town earlier this month, it was Province who dominated at the tackle as their strong, hard-tackling backrow of Springbok flanks Schalk Burger and Francois Louw, with Duane Vermeulen at number eight, excelled and knocked over the ball-carrying Sharks on the gain line.
Province came away with a 33-21 win and this time it was a late Sharks try which gave the scoreline a misleading look.
"We couldn't get going and we could not pick up any momentum,” said Plumtree. “I thought Province played very well and their backrow was excellent.”
The Sharks, of course, were playing only for pride at Newlands - their top spot on the log was assured – and they lacked intensity while they were also missing their influential flanks, the big Willem Alberts and the productive Keegan Daniel, who were rested.
The loose forward clash in the final promises to be an intriguing and bruising one.
The Sharks, with Ryan Kankowski and Daniel playing in Alberts’ slip-stream, may be the more mobile and more of an attacking threat, but Province’s Vermeulen, Burger and Louw will expect to control the physical contest and create the front-foot ball which is critical in modern rugby.
While the Sharks will obviously enjoy being at home, Province are confident that the experience of playing in the Super 14 final against the Bulls in Soweto at the end of May will help them break their long drought, which has not seen them win a Currie Cup final since 2001.
Coach Allister Coetzee said Province were now looking to winning finals rather than just making up the numbers.
“There is now a culture of making play-off games, but we also want to create a culture of winning those games. It was wonderful to make the Super 14 final and, of course, we would have liked to win it,” Coetzee told reporters on Sunday.
“But was the goal just to make it to the final or to win it? That is the question we are asking of ourselves and it’s something we have discussed. We learned from the experience and that will help us against the Sharks on Saturday.”
Coetzee feels his Province side are better for their Soweto experience.
“Lessons were learned and it was a good experience for the guys. Yes, perhaps it was a case of the Bulls playing their second game there (at Soweto) and we, our first. We did not realise how bad the noise levels in the stadium would be,” he said.
“There will also be noise in Durban. It will be a passionate crowd and the Sharks last lost there in February (against the Cheetahs in the Super 14). It’s the Sharks on their home field and they will be very tough. But we have learnt from our past mistakes.”
The big game kicks off at 17:30 on Saturday and Craig Joubert, who also handled the Super 14 final, will be the referee.