Mitchell v Plumtree in final
Johannesburg - Just a week after New Zealand pipped France in the Rugby World Cup final the countries are set to play key roles in the South African Currie Cup final at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday.
Hosts Golden Lions and defending champions and favourites Sharks are coached by Kiwis John Mitchell and John Plumtree respectively and ex-France Test halfback Frederic Michalak is a potential match-winner for the visitors.
Mitchell and Plumtree were born a year apart in the North Island town of Hawera and worked together for the All Blacks ahead of the 2003 World Cup with the former head coach and the latter a video analyst.
But while Mitchell now controls a star-less team with only one 2011 World Cup Springbok in the starting line-up, Plumtree has selected seven including the frontrow of brothers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis and Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira.
League results between the teams offer little insight into what may happen before a sell-out 62 000 crowd as the Lions won 28-19 against a Springbok-less Sharks side and rested half their team when losing 53-9 in Durban two weeks ago.
While Mitchell stresses teamwork above all else and reluctantly praises individuals, there is no doubt that the flyhalves battle between Michalak and rising star Elton Jantjies is set to play a critcal role.
Michalak tops the Currie Cup points scoring charts with 181 - 17 more than second-place Jantjies - and both have been central figures in the progress of their teams to the climax of the domestic season.
The Frenchman had a rare off-day in the come-from-behind 20-13 semi-final victory over Free State Cheetahs last weekend, missing two relatively simple penalty attempts before retiring during the first half with a thigh injury.
Plumtree has collected four Currie Cup winners' medals with the Sharks, two as a player and two as a coach, and recognises the value Michalak brings to his star-studded squad.
"Frederic has been great this season ... he has been a match-winner week after week. He was not at his best in one or two games but at times he did not play behind the strongest pack the Sharks have ever put out.
"If we can provide a good platform for him in the final then he has the range of skills that are needed and he has been around for a while so that experience will certainly help," said the 46-year-old Sharks handler.
Jantjies succeeded with all seven kicks at goal in the 29-20 semi-final win over 2010 runners-up Western Province but, true to form, Mitchell did not react by performing any cartwheels.
"Elton was good ... he has been very good all season. He is an exceptional young man and, like the rest of the players, has learnt a lot this year. They have grown and matured," said the Lions coach.
For Michalak or Jantjies to excel at the ground where the Springboks won the 1995 World Cup, they need possession and while the Sharks may have an edge come scrum time, the Lions should hold their own in the line-outs.
Then there is the crucial breakdown struggle and little known Lions Derick Minnie, Michael Rhodes and skipper Joshua Strauss, sporting the bushiest black beard in South African sport, have been season-long 'bravehearts'.
Opposing them will be Sharks captain Keegan Daniel, 2011 World Cup loose forwward Willem Alberts and former national team eighthman Ryan Kankowski in a showdown for loose ball certain to have a major influence on the result.