Currie Cup Final Preview: Western Province vulnerable when opposition in their face

Western Province vs. Sharks, Newlands, 16:00 (SAT)

Western Province won last year's Currie Cup after fighting their way into the playoffs, and then causing upsets in the semifinals and final. But this year has been different, as they swept all before them in the round-robin stage.

They then almost came unstuck in the semifinals, where the Blue Bulls came within a last-minute conversion of winning the game. It was the first time Province had actually been tested this season.

That match - albeit a bit too close for comfort - was maybe just what they needed to guard against any complacency when they face the Sharks, whom they defeated in last year's final.

Province have vowed to keep playing their exciting brand of rugby in the final, despite freezing and looking unsure at times against the Bulls in the semis. They certainly have the firepower out wide, but can they overcome the mental block of a final that sometimes forces you to play it safe?

The Sharks, meanwhile, seem very 'chilled' this week, following their little video on social media; they certainly have been doing their homework on how to beat Province. It seems they will take a page out the Bulls' book and look to put the Cape side under pressure with their linespeed on defence.

"You have to put Western Province under pressure, they don't like that ... the [semifinals] game for me showed that you can't underestimate anyone," Sharks coach Robert du Preez said.

The Sharks got a bit of fright themselves when they almost let the Lions back into the game after dominating the first hour of their own semifinal. They will certainly not take their foot off the gas at Newlands on Saturday.

How Western Province can win...

Province have got to pick their battles and be patient against a Sharks team that is going to try to put them under pressure with good linespeed and physical hits on defence. WP have picked Springbok Damian Willemse as another playmaking option at No. 12, which means they will also look to control the territory battle. The home side's scrum didn't have it all their own way against the Bulls last weekend, and the experienced Sharks front row is certainly not going to be a pushover either. The WP forwards need to produce one final scrum performance if they are to create a good platform for their backs.

How the Sharks can win...

The Sharks copped 50 points against Western Province at Newlands earlier in the season, but they know Province are hardly invincible. They have strong players in midfield, which could be the key to stopping the home team's momentum. With Jean-Luc du Preez back in the back row, he will provide that stopping power on defence, as well as getting the Sharks over the advantage line. Province love momentum and playing off front-foot ball, but the Bulls showed just how vulnerable they can be when the opposition plays in their faces. The Sharks also have a great lineout, and look for the likes of Hyron Andrews to put pressure on WP's hookers.

Key matchup: SP Marais vs. S'bu Nkosi

The wingers are key to victory for Province and the Sharks, but they have different strengths.

SP Marais' boot was largely responsible for WP getting out of jail against the Bulls. He kicked well in windy conditions, and kept his nerve under pressure. But Marais is also a top player with ball in hand, and a great finisher in his own right.

Nkosi, on the other hand, is simply magic. He showed against the Lions that he is getting back to his best with wonderful runs and a brace of tries. WP know they can't afford to give the Springboks flyer space, otherwise it could be a long day for the home side.


Western Province: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian Willemse, 11 SP Marais, 10 Josh Stander, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ali Vermaak.

Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Michael Kumbirai, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Dan Kriel, 23 JJ Engelbrecht.

Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 S'bu Nkosi, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Aphelele Fassi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Tyler Paul, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Juan Schoeman.

Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Jacques Vermeulen, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Kobus van Wyk, 23 Leolin Zas.

Referee: Jaco Peyper

Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs and Cwengile Jadezweni

TMO: Shaun Veldsman

Prediction: Western Province got a massive scare last week, but they showed the character to pull through. Home-ground advantage will also count for a lot. Western Province by 8.