Sharks pack pave way to title

GARETH DUNCAN, reporting from Durban, says the Sharks’ powerful pack will be central in their expected victory over WP in Saturday’s Currie Cup final.

Sharks head coach John Plumtree made his intentions clear with the promotions of loosehead prop Beast Mtawarra, flank Willem Alberts and hooker Craig Burden this weekend. He aims to outmuscle the lighter and younger Province pack in the domestic showdown at Kings Park.

Plumtree’s decision not to promote in-form Baby Bok and Sharks U21 utility forward Pieter-Steph du Toit also reveals his plan for dominance up front. He’s opted for the heavier and more robust Anton Bresler and Steven Sykes in the second row, with Jandre Marais providing lock cover on the bench.

Du Toit was touted as a solution to the Sharks’ lineout woes, which Province will target on Saturday. However, skipper Keegan Daniel revealed to me earlier in the week that they will be better prepared at the set pieces and have come up with tactics to defend against the well-drilled Province rolling maul.

These selections and Plumtree’s management of his returning Springboks will play a key part in their hopes of achieving ascendancy among the forwards, which was central in their 20-3 semi-final win over the Blue Bulls last weekend, especially on defence.

The Bulls had several trying-scoring opportunities from striking range during the second half, which would’ve brought them back into the contest. However, the hosts’ strong defence, especially at the breakdowns, was successful in keeping their opposition out and they achieved a comfortable win.

The key pack match-ups on Saturday will be between the tight fives and loose forwards.

The Sharks have a stronger tight five, which should see them dominate the scrums. Surely you’d expect their front row, which includes two experienced Springbok props in Jannie du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira, to have the advantage against a green Province front line. Plumtree admitted that his team should have the upper hand in this facet of play.

However, WP forwards coach Matt Proudfoot is confident his young bucks can do the job: ‘I think we’ve scrummed generally well this season. [Props] Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe have developed really well during the year. If they play to their potential, they’ll do well against the Sharks.’

WP also have experienced front-rowers in Deon Carstens and Brok Harris on the bench, and they’ll be expected to strengthen the scrum efforts in the second half.

The loose forward battle will be a potential match-leveller.

While the Sharks have a stronger loose trio combination, the poaching capabilities of WP duo Duane Vermeulen and Deon Fourie (who’s been in great domestic form) will pose a threat.

Daniel believes his team will have to nullify this: ‘Deon has been in great from. He’s a strong ball-carrier and we’ve seen how effective he is on the ground. Duane has also done well this year. We just have to play to our strengths and keep our focus. The performance of the forwards up front will be crucial in who wins the Currie Cup final.’

However, Fourie has proven to be a hot-head this season. He’s been involved in several off-the-ball spats and has shown ill-discipline, even as captain. Head coach Allister Coetzee will need to restrict his aggression.

Province are without key heavies in hooker Tiaan Liebenberg and lock Andries Bekker, who picked up injuries in the final league game a fortnight ago. Their absence will be telling as I don’t think Scarra Ntubeni (despite his impressive form) and De Kock Steenkamp have the abilities to fill in effectively. Liebenberg’s power up front and Bekker’s lineout strengths will be missed.

A full-strength WP team would’ve been competitive against the Sharks in this weekend’s final. But the Cape side have lost too much firepower, especially among the forwards.

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