Currie Cup preview: Final
28 Oct 2011
GARETH DUNCAN analyses the key match-ups and predicts who will be crowned the 2011 Currie Cup champions.
Lions vs Sharks, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 17:30
Why the Lions will win: Most pundits (including myself) called a Province victory over the Lions last weekend. But the mighty Jozi mongrels surprised many for the umpteenth time in this year’s Currie Cup. From their table-topping run since round one to surging into a home final – they’ve shown their achievements are well deserved and that they have that hunger to end their 12-year silverware drought. Home ground advantage will be key as Ellis Park has proven to be their haven, with the Lions having only lost one match there (a 21-18 defeat to the Bulls) throughout the competition. The Johannesburg union have the benefit of having fielded the same group of players since the start of Super Rugby, and that continuity in selection has been the main reason for their growth in 2011. What has been instrumental in the Lions’ domestic success is their underrated group of forwards. They have a solid front row, a physical second row and their loosies have menaced many teams this season. They have a pack that can match the powerful Sharks heavies on their day, and if they do that effectively, then the platform is set for the backline. John Mitchell has entrusted young flyhalf Elton Jantjies with the responsibility of spearheading the team. The 21-year-old proved he has the BMT for finals rugby in their semi-final win over WP, but he also has the reputation of faltering when the Lions find themselves on the back foot. Expect Jantjies to be targeted by the Sharks, like the way Cheetahs flyhalf Johan Goosen was targeted last weekend. Jaco Taute has been the form fullback of the tournament, and he could provide an extra dimension with his ability to convert long range penalties. He’s only had a few attempts during the season but has been practising all week. He needs to pick up on his accuracy though.
Why the Sharks will win: With seven World Cup Boks in their starting XV, the Sharks look strong on paper. But with their first half performance against the Cheetahs last weekend, there will be concerns on how this team will fire at Ellis Park. WP’s 29-20 defeat to the Lions last weekend proved that the Bok boost is not enough – the overall team performance is what will matter the most. And that has been something coach John Plumtree and his assistants have been focusing on during the week. However, considering this is the third week the current squad have spent time together, you can expect a stronger sense of cohesion in this Sharks team. With only one change on the bench (lock Alistair Hargreaves replaces flanker Jacques Botes on the bench), there will be an opportunity to build momentum heading into this title decider. There is a second concern, though. While the Sharks have a strong pack, questions will be asked of their backline. Flyhalf Frederic Michalak (thigh) and inside centre Marius Joubert (groin) have recovered from their respective injuries picked last weekend, but you have to wonder if the duo will be on top form on match day. It’s no secret that the Sharks’ midfield is their weakness, and it will be an area the Lions will mark. If the hosts expose that combination effectively, it could mean trouble for the Durban side. The Sharks will need to keep the match tight as a loose game will favour the Lions’ expansive approach.
Gareth’s call: Lions to edge it by three points.
Lions – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Doppies la Grange, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Joshua Strauss (c), 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Wikus van Heerden, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 CJ van der Linde.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse/JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Warren Whiteley, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar/Jaco Kriel, 20 Butch James, 21 Dylan des Fountain, 22 James Kamana.
Sharks – 15 Pat Lambie, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Marius Joubert, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Conrad Hoffmann, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Jean Deysel, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Adi Jacobs, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.