Balancing the coastal scales

There are four key areas that will shape tonight’s game in Durban. Keo.co.za takes a look at these factors, as well as a few of the past results at Absa Stadium.

If revenge truly is a dish best served cold, then Sharks can expect some icy soup from Vodacom Western Province tonight.

The Sharks beat Western Province at Newlands in the first round through a last minute Danie Saayman try, despite AJ Venter’s admission that his side were second best throughout the contest.

Now Western Province come to the Absa Stadium intent on dealing out retribution. The hosts will brace themselves for a multi-dimensional attack from a team who have so far shamed their pre-season detractors.

HOOKED

Bismarck du Plessis poor showing against the Lions last weekend belied his good form throughout the tournament. The hooker has been the unsung hero of the front row and has promised a vastly improved performance. Supremely accurate with his throw-ins and workman-like play in both the tight and loose, Du Plessis will be a key player if the Sharks ease up on their cavalier approach and keep the game as tight as they have promised.

Hanyani Shimange’s story is well known. Bench rash at both international and provincial level means the Springbok reject comes into this game severely undercooked. When he finally received a start against the Pumas, he was wayward with his lineout throws and was rightly subbed in the second half. An injury to Australian import, Huia Edmonds, means Shimmie will start for only the second time this season. His lack of game time and form could give the Sharks the edge, and they are sure to apply due pressure.

BACK ROW BATTLE

The Sharks loose trio of Warren Britz, Jacques Botes and AJ Venter have been superb this season. The combination has been honed throughout the Vodacom Super 14 and Britz told this website that the trio are now at the point where “we each just instinctively know what the other is going to do”. A well worked try between Venter and Britz against the Lions last Saturday bears testament to this. Province will know that to provide their backline with the quick, quality ball they thrive on, they will have to dominate this facet of play. The Sharks’ depth from the bench in the form of Keegan Daniel and Ryan Kankowski will ensure that they will remain a threat at the breakdown and in open play throughout the game.

In Luke Watson, Justin Melck and Robbie Diack, Western Province have what some consider to be the finest young loose trio in the country. The Cape side’s success has been built around the triumvirate, and their ability to devastate teams at the point of breakdown has been well documented. The Sharks will be aware that if their forwards amble to the second phase or fail to clean out at ruck time (as they did last week at Ellis Park), their difficult task may become nigh on impossible.

The last time these two sides met, there was an incredible battle between the two No 8s. Young Diack didn’t allow himself to be intimidated, and by his own admission stood up to the Springbok veteran. The pressure will be on the former Michaelhouse boy to provide a similar performance tonight, as Venter has also grown in form as the season has progressed.

PIVOTAL PROMINENCE

Despite his captain and coach’s vehement support, Brad Barritt has been unconvincing at flyhalf. A natural centre, he often surrenders to his natural instinct to crash the ball up in midfield instead of getting the dangerous runners outside him away. At just 21-years-old he will improve, but there is little denying that Butch James’ Springbok call-up has exposed the lack of an experienced replacement at No 10. Many have been touted to fill the role, with Brent Russell’s name being at the forefront of that argument, but for now Barritt will have to improve quickly if he is to lead his side to a victory tonight.

Naas Olivier seems to be WP’s long term answer at flyhalf, but like Barritt, is two or so seasons away from becoming the finished article. The 24-year-old has been solid this season without being spectacular, but still poses a serious threat with his unpredictability and flair. A reliable goalkicker and assured defender, Olivier will have the wood on Barritt tonight.

ATTACKING PROWESS

In JP Pietersen and Gio Aplon, these two sides have the country’s foremost attacking fullbacks. Booming up-and-unders don’t feature in the repertoire of these running machines, and a second invitation to join the backline is wasted on them. Pietersen’s late inclusion will have Western Province plotting a strategy for nullifying the Bok discard. But let’s refrain from analysing these two and who will come out on top. Let us simply marvel at the JP Pietersen step or gasp in awe as Aplon hits a gap at pace.

HISTORY

There is another factor that may influence this encounter in Durban, namely history. While the men from the Cape recorded a victory here in the Currie Cup last year, you need to go all the way back to 2000 to find another East Coast win. WP beat the Sharks to claim the title in this match.

The fact that Province lost narrowly by 25-28 in Cape Town on 1 July will be another psychological advantage to the home side. WP maintain that the Sharks were lucky to sneak a win at the death, and will be looking to prove their superiority tonight.

Sharks versus Province always lives up to it’s billing. This match will be no different.

WP RECORD AT ABSA STADIUM:
2005: WON 21-45
2004 :LOST 25-18
2003: LOST 18-6
2001: LOST 36-13
2000: WON 15-25 (FINAL)
1999: LOST 65-16
1997: LOST 34-22

By Ryan Vrede and Jon Cardinelli