Cape Town - The scene is set. WP v Golden Lions at Newlands for the 2014 Absa Currie Cup title. Who's it going to be?
Sport24's rugby 'gurus' Garrin Lambley and Herman Mostert discuss who they think will lift the trophy come Saturday night...
Garrin Lambley on why the GOLDEN LIONS will emerge victorious...
The 2014 Currie Cup final promises to be a tightly contested affair. No doubting the best two teams in this year's competition will do battle in Saturday's final at a - hopefully - sold-out Newlands.
WP have been in dominant form at home this season, losing only a meaningless final round robin match to the Sharks, and, tellingly, beating the Lions 27-14 in an earlier group encounter.
The Lions are on an upward curve, having thrashed the Free State Cheetahs (47-7) and Sharks (50-20) in the past fortnight, while over the same period WP lost to the Sharks (28-20) at home (albeit it with a weakened side) and stumbled their way past the Blue Bulls in the semi-finals (31-23).
Also in the Lions' favour is that fact that stats don't lie!
A quick look at the season-long stats sheet clearly shows a distinct advantage for coach Johan Ackermann's men in virtually all aspects of the game.
On attack, the Lions dominate the Carries (1 126 v 861), Clean Breaks (93-62), Defenders Beaten (108-73), Metres Run (10 481-8 526), offloads (150-76), Passes (1 611-1 339) and Tries (50-43) categories.
The visitors are equally adept on defence, having missed fewer tackles (193-316) and won more turnovers (29-21) than their hosts.
But crucially, the biggest advantage the Lions will enjoy is among their forwards, where those in the know will agree, the game is won.
The Lions boasted the most impressive scrum unit in Super Rugby this season, and that key area of play has been carried over into the Currie Cup where the tight-five in red and white have sent shivers down the spines of opponents, with calls for all of their starting and reserve front rankers to get the nod for the Springboks' end of year tour.
In addition, the Lions' loose forward trio have been the simply outstanding to date, with flank Jaco Kriel the leading try-scorer in the competition.
No 8 Warren Whiteley has been an inspirational figure for the Lions, and along with Marnitz Boshoff, the Lions' only other player to have received a Springbok call-up this season, their performances will go a long way to securing the Lions' first Currie Cup victory since 2011.
Some 52% of Sport24's readers believe the Lions will win - and so do I... 26-22 to the Lions!
Herman Mostert on why WESTERN PROVINCE will edge the Golden Lions in Saturday’s Currie Cup final at Newlands.
Home ground advantage will count in Western Province’s favour. And I base this not on the fact that the hosts seldom lose at Newlands (remember last year’s final?) but on the fact that the Lions have been poor travellers this year - both in Super Rugby and Currie Cup.
Apart from their 21-20 win over the Cheetahs in the first week of Super Rugby, the men from Johannesburg haven’t won a single noteworthy game away from home all season.
In the Currie Cup, they lost their three toughest away games - against WP, Blue Bulls and Sharks - while their away wins came against some of the so-called ‘minnows’ in the competition, namely the EP Kings and Griquas.
Upon their two trips to Newlands this season, the Lions were also comfortably beaten - 18-3 in Super Rugby and 27-14 in Currie Cup.
It is therefore clear to me that away from fortress Ellis Park, Johan Ackermann’s charges aren’t as formidable and they also lack Currie Cup final experience compared to Western Province, who boast more players with final experience in recent times.
Yes, the hosts will be dominated at scrum time and they’ll in all likelihood come second best in most forward exchanges, but they seem to have handled it pretty well in this competition. For example, they beat the Blue Bulls three times and on all three occasions WP - in my opinion - played behind a struggling pack. However, their dangerous back trio - Seabelo Senatla, Kobus van Wyk and Cheslin Kolbe - were lethal on the counter-attack and scored some splendid tries against the run of play.
Decent loose forward play and an ability to dominate the contact situation also set up the opportunities out wide and I see them at least matching the Lions in that regard on Saturday.
WP’s newly adopted attacking strategy (credit Director of Rugby Gert Smal) has clearly paid dividends!
They will also be keen to not lose two home Currie Cup finals in a row and in that regard mental coach Henning Gericke (another well-timed appointment made by Smal) will get the most out of motivating his players.
The Lions may have the edge up front, but for all my above-mentioned reasons, I’m predicting WP to sneak a win on Saturday.HAVE YOUR SAY: Who will win Saturday's Currie Cup final? Send your thoughts to Sport24