Durban – A year ago, Western Province travelled to Durban as rank underdogs for the Currie Cup final, and promptly won. This year, veteran Sharks flanker Jaques Botes says the reversal in the “favourites” tag is settling nicely with his written-off team.
Most pundits are expecting Province to successfully defend their title at Newlands on Saturday, and the Sharks are happy to have the weight of expectation shifted to their opponents.
“It’s always a challenge not to read too much into what’s being said in the media, but we’ve been in that situation before of being overwhelming favourites, where people think you just have to turn up to win,” Botes reflected.
“I’m sure they’ll be talking about the perils of being favourites, as have we in the past. We are drawing energy from being written off.
“It’s nice to have underdog status for a change,” the 32-year-old said.
“The last few years we have been the favourites, and it hasn’t always working out in our favour. Hopefully this year it will work out better for us to go into a final not being expected to win by the public.”
This is the fourth consecutive final for Botes (and the Sharks), and he remembers well the disappointment of losing after being hotly tipped to beat the Lions in 2011 and Province last year.
The Sharks were favourites in 2010, and duly won the trophy.
“The tag of being the favourites can affect teams in both ways, positive and negative,” he said.
“There have been times when we’ve used it to our advantage, and times when it’s played against us. Ultimately it depends on the team, and the dynamic of the team, and how you approach it.”
Privately, the Sharks will know they have the firepower to beat Province, particularly with a number of key Springboks coming back from injury, and they will be enjoying reading that they have little chance.
The more they are written off, the more motivated they will be.
“We know what we are capable of,” Botes said.
“But it is vital in a final not to get too drawn into all the hype. You draw energy from the fact that it is a massive occasion, but ultimately, once you run on to the field, you want to make clinical decisions more often than not and stay calm where possible.”
Botes said that while there was a role reversal between the teams in the build-up this year compared with 2012, the Sharks were in fact in a better position than Province were last year.
“They arrived in Durban for last year’s final with a very young, inexperienced side,” he said. “A lot of their big guns didn’t play, but they ended up winning. We have a nicely experienced team, so there is some reverse in that the game is being played down there and that they are the favourites this time, but we are more experienced than they were last year.
“It’s going to be an interesting game.”
*The Sharks will name their team today after a final decision is made on the fitness of tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis.