Surf and turf for final

The Sharks and Bulls will contest the final of the Absa Currie Cup.

And rightfully so. They’ve been the two most impressive and consistent teams in the tournament. The quality of their squads outshines that of the Lions and Cheetahs respectively and home ground advantage will be massive. previews this weekend’s semi-finals.

Sharks v Lions, Saturday 14:30pm, Durban

Much has been made of the Sharks’ 2007 semi-final defeat to the Lions and how that, and 12 years worth of stumbling in semi-finals and finals, will effect them psychologically once more on Saturday.

The reality is that history won’t be a factor as the Sharks’ outstanding squad (they boast 15 Springboks in their match 22, eight of them World Cup winners) and efficient attacking and defensive structures means they’ll be too good for the Lions.

The Joburg boys will base their approach around territory, set phase and breakdown dominance. A fortnight ago when these teams met at Ellis Park that approach proved unsuccessful (the Sharks won 34-20) and they will fail again if they attempt to replicate it.

There will be parity at the set phases, but even with the inclusion of Louis Strydom at flyhalf, the Lions don’t possess a tactical kicker to trouble the Sharks consistently. In addition, if openside flank Cobus Grobbelaar can be nullified in the manner he was at Ellis Park, the Lions stated plans to thwart the Sharks at the breakdown will fall flat.

The Sharks are brimful of quality in their backline, with their 9 and 10 axis and midfield combinations showing outstanding form in recent weeks. In addition, JP Pietersen is showing signs of rediscovering the form that made him so dangerous in 2007. They’ll exploit a Lions defensive line who have leaked 36 tries (the most of the semi-finalists) and special attention will no doubt be reserved for Lions fullback Earl Rose, who is bound to field his share of bombs.

The Sharks’ star-studded bench will ensure that their challenge is carried over 80 minutes and all this amounts to a relatively comfortable victory for the hosts.

Sharks by 12

Sharks- 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller (c), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 John Smit, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Albert van den Berg/Nikolai Blignaut, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Bradley Barritt, 22 Waylon Murray.

Lions –15 Earl Rose, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Trompie Nontshinga, 10 Louis Strydom, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Justin Wheeler, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar (c), 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Anton van Zyl, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Lawrence Sephaka, 18 Jannes Labuschagne, 19 Wilhelm Koch, 20 Chris Jonck, 21 Michael Killian, 22 Jaco van Schalkwyk.

Blue Bulls v Cheetahs, Saturday 17:00pm, Pretoria

The Bulls were clinical in the first half of their last match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein three weeks ago, leading 23-0 at the break before taking their foot off the gas. And despite not scoring thereafter, their outstanding defensive structure blunted wave after wave of attack with consummate ease.

Gone are the days of the Bulls being a one-dimensional team, over-reliant on their forwards to pummel the opposition into submission. They’ve evolved into a well balanced unit. This can be seen in effectiveness of their attacking play, which has yielded them the most tries in the tournament.

The Cheetahs, by contrast, have been the least prolific of the semi-finalists in terms of tries scored, but are the tournament’s best defensively. The Bulls will have to be inventive and patient if they hope to breach their line. This will necessitate clinical phase play – something which the Bulls are well versed in – before Fourie du Preez, Morné Steyn and the impressive Wynand Olivier look to create opportunities for their outside backs.

Expect Victor Matfield to trouble the Cheetahs at the lineouts, but the scrums should be evenly contested. The other key facet of play will be the breakdown, where Deon Stegmann and Heinrich Brüssow will be engaged in an almighty battle for the ascendancy. The winner of that duel will give their team a significant advantage both on attack and defence.

And while the collective effort will be emphasised by both camps the Bulls possess a proven match winner in Bryan Habana. Much has been made of his indifferent form of late, but the winger is renowned as a big game player. If those on his inside can create space and opportunities for him, he has the ability to single-handedly win this match.

Bulls by 10

Blue Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 John Mametsa, 13 Marius Delport, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Derick Kuün, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Tiger Mangweni.

Cheetahs – 15 Bevin Fortuin, 14 JW Jonker, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Smith (c), 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Barend Pieterse, 4 David de Villiers, 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Subs: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Nico Breedt, 19 Hendro Scholtz, 20 Jandre Blom, 21 Hennie Daniller, 22 Kabamba Floors.