Cape Town – Beating a full-strength Sharks team would make victory for Western Province that much sweeter if they are to triumph in Saturday’s Currie Cup final at Newlands (5.30pm kickoff).
That was the essence of the message from WP coach Allister Coetzee and captain Deon Fourie on Wednesday following their practice and the team announcement at Newlands.
Province were regarded as early favourites for Saturday’s Currie Cup final at Newlands (5.30pm kickoff) following an unbeaten league campaign and a convincing semi-final victory over the Lions, but the Sharks may fancy their chances if they can field a full-strength outfit.
Bismarck du Plessis was somewhat fortunate to be cleared of a foul-play charge and Willem Alberts and Jannie du Plessis may return from injury for the Sharks, but that doesn’t bother the defending champions, though. In fact, WP would welcome taking on a strong Sharks team.
“This is definitely one of the best Sharks teams we’ve played against. We haven’t played against a Frans Steyn or a Willem Alberts, so this is a very Springbok-laden Sharks team and it will be a good contest,” Coetzee said yesterday.
“We are unbeaten and the Sharks only have three losses throughout the competition. In my opinion, there are no favourites here. We want to play against the best possible team if you want to be the champion team for the second year running.”
Asked for his views on Bismarck escaping further sanction after his tramping incident in last week’s semi-final against the Cheetahs, Coetzee replied: “No comment on that! We just want to play the best possible Sharks side. It’s a great opportunity for our team at Newlands.”
Fourie said that Saturday’s final is more evenly-matched than last year’s Kings Park decider. “I don’t think there are favourites or underdogs. Last year we didn’t have our Springboks and they had theirs, so that’s why we were underdogs. This year is completely different, strength against strength. The team that makes the least mistakes will win the game,” he said.
“Bismarck is a quality player and one of the best in the world, so it will definitely boost them scrumming-wise and lineout-wise. Finals are set-piece dominated games, so it’s a boost for them.”
Indeed, last year Province were without Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, Siya Kolisi, Tiaan Liebenberg and of course Schalk Burger, while the Sharks were only really missing Bismarck du Plessis.
While Coetzee feels that while the Sharks’ new territory-based gameplan will provide an “even bigger challenge” on Saturday, he has ordered his team to pounce on any poor kick from the Durban side.
Current Sharks director of rugby Brendan Venter – who will be replaced by Jake White next season – has placed a greater emphasis on tactical kicking since taking charge in Durban compared to the all-out attack approach of his predecessor John Plumtree.
That gameplan certainly worked for the Sharks over the years as they won two Currie Cups in 2008 and 2010, reached the final in 2011 and last year, and lost out to the Chiefs in the 2012 Super Rugby final.
Coetzee believes that Venter’s gameplan makes the Sharks difficult opponents in Saturday’s final, but he wants his band of game-breakers such as Gio Aplon, Cheslin Kolbe and De Villiers to continue utilising attacking opportunities that may arise.
“The Sharks have a massive, big kicking game, and if you don’t handle that, you will be in a bit of trouble. I think it’s important to have the accuracy. They will be kicking ball away to us, so you have to handle that.
“If you put pressure on their set-piece and compete at lineout time, that would be good ball for us. And if you starve them of possession, that’s the key to this whole thing,” the coach said.
“If you read what Keegan Daniel said, they came close and have definitely beaten us in the collisions, so if that will be the case on Saturday, the battlefields are even. It’s 50/50, and the way we see it in finals, that half a chance you get, you must convert it and take those opportunities. That’s what it will come down to.”
Coetzee picked an unchanged match-22 yesterday, even though Fourie (shoulder muscle) and wing Gerhard van den Heever (groin) didn’t train. “Gerhard is just a bit tight, but he should be fine with treatment and an off-day tomorrow. So he should be ready to go at captain’s on Friday. It’s just a bit stiff in the groin,” the coach said. “Deon is looking good, we’re really positive. I have no doubt that Deon will play on Saturday.”
Wester Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jean de Villiers, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Bench: 16 Frans Malherbe, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Michael Rhodes, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Juan de Jongh.
*Sharks team to be named today