Johannesburg – Defending champions the Golden Lions will hope for a repeat of last year’s Currie Cup semi-final when they take on Western Province in their playoff match at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Last year the Johannesburg side dismantled Province 29-20 and went on to beat the Sharks in the final to clinch the Currie Cup title.
Elsewhere on Saturday, the Sharks could set up a repeat of the 2011 final if they manage to beat the resurgent Blue Bulls in Durban.
The Lions will go into their match with a psychological edge, having won their previous four Currie Cup encounters against Province, while they will also be buoyed by their home supporters.
The Johannesburg side’s interim coach, Johan Ackermann, will hope his gamble to rest key players for last week’s match against the Blue Bulls will pay off against a star-studded Province side.
“We've beaten them this year in the Currie Cup and we beat them last year so we are confident that we can, but we are not thinking that it's going to come easily,” Ackermann said.
The Province side resembles their Super Rugby team and despite the injury loss of captain Jean de Villiers, lock Andries Bekker and Tiaan Liebenberg, they remain a formidable opponent.
While the visitors are regarded as the best defensive side in the competition, they have been equally impressive on attack, scoring the second most tries in this year’s top-flight domestic competition.
“They will be physical because that's an area where they probably think they can attack us,” Ackermann said.
“We are well prepared and the guys are excited. The good thing for us is that we know we can beat them.”
Province captain Deon Fourie said the visitors were ready for a tough battle.
“Playoff matches can be funny in the sense that not always the best team wins,” Fourie said.
“For the past three seasons we've reached the playoffs in the competition and we know what it's about.”
The coastal side will nevertheless be desperate to advance to the final in an effort to bring their 10-year Currie Cup title drought to an end.
The Bulls, meanwhile, will take some confidence from their late revival in the competition.
However, they face a massive task against the pace-setting Sharks at Kings Park.
The Sharks have not lost a match in Durban this season and the hosts will also take confidence from their consistent performances this year, having lost only three of their 10 matches in the competition.
“Of course there’s motivation. We spent the last 10 weeks trying to get into this position,” said Sharks captain Keegan Daniel.
“We’ve done pretty well to get here and end top of the log with the possibility of hosting a home final.”
Bulls coach Pine Pienaar admitted the Sharks were the favourites to win the match but he insisted his side would throw down the gauntlet.
“Everybody has that dream to be successful and bring the cup back to Pretoria,” Pienaar said.
“We know that it will be hard and they are the favourites but we need a good start and you never know what could happen.” – Sapa