Durban - The Cell C Sharks will know all about how important the first phase battle, and particularly the one that pertains to the lineouts, is to Absa Currie Cup success.
Two years ago, in the Durban final against Western Province, the visitors came to Kings Park as underdogs, according to the supersport.com website.
They ended up scoring an unlikely victory for two reasons – the first was the excellent individualistic try scored by Juan de Jongh that gave the Cape side confidence and appeared to knock back the swagger of the Sharks, and the second was the lineout performance.
With the then hooker Craig Burden failing to find his jumpers, the Sharks lineout was all over the place.
WP were able to steal balls at will, and that prevented the hosts from being able to pick up the momentum that was required by them to build up the necessary pressure. They lost the game.
Just under 12 months ago the roles were reversed when the same two teams met in the Newlands final.
The Sharks travelled as underdogs after finishing behind Province on the log and losing a league fixture against their coastal rivals in Durban two weeks before the decider.
But they won it, and again there were two reasons for the reversal of what was expected – the Sharks employed a clever tactical kicking game to get the ball in behind the WP defenders, and then there was the lineout.
It was the common denominator in the two finals, and pivotal to the result of each.
Pieter-Steph du Toit helped the then Sharks director of rugby Brendan Venter mastermind the turn-around from the previous year.
He isn’t there now, but young Stephan Lewies, a product of the lock factory that passes as the Pretoria school system, is there, and he knows how important lineout dominance will be if the underdog Sharks are to score an upset win in their semifinal against the Golden Lions on Saturday.
Lewies clearly returned to Durban from the final league match against WP in Cape Town emboldened by the way the Sharks formation was able to dominate their opponents in the second half of a game that wasn’t going well for the champions before the lineout kingpins stepped up and took over.
It wasn’t the WP first choice team that the Sharks were playing against, but seeing a plan come together was still a confidence booster.
"In our preparation going into the Newlands game, we concentrated a lot on looking at their lineout," said Lewies.
"It was always going to be the plan to put pressure on the new guys coming in at lock in the second half, and on the new combinations.
"We are an established partnership now, so it was easy for us.
"The lineout is definitely one of our weapons, and we’re looking to use it to good effect this weekend against a Lions team that is strong in the same department."
According to Lewies, the Sharks and Lions get their confidence from the same areas, namely getting on top in the first phase battle.
The Lions’ lineout is arguably more vulnerable than their juggernaut scrum, that hasn’t taken a step back all season, so there are no prizes for guessing where the Sharks’ main focus is going to be at the weekend.
It will be on the area that lost them the 2012 final and won then the one in 2013.
"I think that’s where they get their mojo from.
"From the scrum, where they get a huge amount of energy, and also from their lineout, which is one of the better formations in the competition, so we’ll have to be on top of our game this weekend.
"I think we’re on an upward curve as a group, and that’s what you want going into a semi-final."