Super Rugby preview – Final

JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the key match-ups and pick the winner of the title.

So the boys got a zero from two return last week, backing the Crusaders’ pedigree in the first semi and the Stormers’ defensive excellence in the second.

This week someone’s going to be right, with Vrede giving it to the hosts comfortably and JC, for the third successive year, backing the underdog. Vrede hopes that it’s third time lucky for Cardinelli. A Sharks win would be glorious, wouldn’t it?

CHIEFS vs SHARKS, HAMILTON, SATURDAY 09:35

KEO.CO.ZA SUCCESS RATE
VREDE: 88/124 (71%)
JC: 91/124 (73%)

WHY THE CHIEFS ARE FAVOURITES:
JC: The Chiefs must be feeling the pressure. They will enjoy home advantage this Saturday while the Sharks will be at a significant disadvantage given their taxing travel schedule. The expectation to win will be enormous. If Dave Rennie’s side were to lose this match, it would go down as one of the biggest chokes in sporting history. Even if the Sharks had come into this match well-rested, the Chiefs would hold the edge given the balance between their attack and defence. They may not boast many All Blacks in their pack, but the forwards have been excellent in terms of laying the platform and exhibiting the handling skills needed to play a high-tempo game. And in the halfbacks, they have the decision-making nous to hurt the best defences. The Sharks haven’t been consistent in this regard, and it won’t help that they will be forced to make further changes to their midfield now that Tim Whitehead is unavailable. Sonny Bill Williams will benefit from a strong forward platform, and take his side beyond the gainline to set up further attacking chances. On defence, the Chiefs boast a great record and watch for their terrific line speed, it should cut down the Sharks’ momentum. All in all, they’re an 80-minute side, and even if the game is in the balance in the final quarter you’d back the Chiefs to win it, as this is when the Sharks will tire.
VREDE: I had reservations about their ability to match the Crusaders’ outstanding forwards in set and general play last week, but their heavies were outstanding, sustaining their effort through 80 minutes. Their victory will be built on a performance that calls on that strength once more, with Kane Thompson, Tanerau Latimer, Craig Clarke, Ben Tameifuna, and Sona Taumalolo particularly prominent in the tight exchanges, establishing the platform that has been at the heart of their attacking potency. The Sharks’ heavies reached down to somewhere special to produce the defensive performance they did against the Stormers, but 35 000km worth of travel in the last three weeks will reflect in their capacity to resist the Chiefs, particularly in the last quarter. From there the Chiefs’ 9-10-12 combination have offered them every attacking dimension possible. Fatigue will have a telling effect on the Sharks’ attacking play as well, with their key strike runners to be blunted by the abrasive, organised and accurate Chiefs.

WHY THE SHARKS ARE CAPABLE OF DEFYING EXPECTATIONS:
JC: I called the Stormers to win in the 2010 final and the Crusaders to win in the 2011 decider (two away wins in Super Rugby finals) – so to say I’m a dreamer who believes that the fairytale ending is possible is an understatement. The Sharks have certainly given me good cause to believe a win in Hamilton is well within their power. Their victory in Cape Town last week highlighted the belief within the side, and while belief alone won’t be enough to win a Super Rugby final, it will certainly give the men from Durban a fighting chance. They are going to fade in the latter stages, so they will need to catch the Chiefs early on and build a substantial lead in the first half. What’s in their favour is their superior scrum, lineout and breakdown exponents, and so it would be wiser to force the Chiefs to play a tighter game. They also have a master tactician in flyhalf Freddie Michalak, who will play them into the right areas of the field, and take kickable opportunities be they penalties or drop goals. Finals are typically tighter than league matches, and in this environment the Sharks should prosper. But they have to take their early chances if they are going to end on the right side of the final scoreline.
VREDE’S CALL: I live in hope that the words I’m about to type next reflect how the match will unfold. If, man it’s a big if, but if the Sharks’ forwards somehow summon the energy, strength, clarity of thought and raw desperation to boss the gainline, they will force the Chiefs to revert to a cavalier approach. Then it’s game on. The Chiefs’ vulnerabilities have been exposed a couple of times when pinned in their half, and a platform that would allow Frederic Michalak, Charl McLeod and Pat Lambie to drive their side into Chiefs territory, then force infringements through pressure defence, is essential. Michalak has kicked superbly and can steadily grow a lead through his boot if given opportunities. The Sharks have also consistently shown their ability to convert scoring opportunities into tries. Their aim should be a 12-point lead going into the last 20 minutes. Then it’s down to their desire and resolve.

JC’S CALL: Sharks by 3
VREDE’S CALL: Chiefs by 12

Chiefs – 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Subs: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Lelia Masaga

Sharks – 15 Pat Lambie, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Riaan Viljoen.