The fact that just a single log point separates the Sharks and Western Province heading into tonight’s final Currie Cup pool match aptly reflects just how little there has been to choose between the two coastal teams throughout the season.
Indeed, last year’s finalists have been jostling for top spot for the better part of the past month, having once again established themselves as the two teams to beat in the battle for the famous domestic trophy.
And while little separated the top four teams in the first half of the season, just recently the Sharks and Province have pulled away to such a degree that there is now a 10-point buffer between the second- and third-placed teams.
So whatever happens today, we already know that next Saturday’s semifinals will be played in Durban and Cape Town, but it’s the winner of tonight’s coastal derby that will finish top of the log and earn the right to potentially host the October 26 final, should they get past the semis.
And although neither side will simply be taking a semi- final victory for granted, both the Sharks and Western Province will know the importance and value of finishing the pool stages in pole position. “For both teams it’s extremely important to try to get the opportunity to host the final,” acknowledged Sharks backline coach Sean Everitt. “So neither side will use this week as preparation for the semifinals when so much is at stake.
“We owe some success to Durban and our fans, and likewise, Western Province would love a home final because they played away last year. So I think they will feel the same way we do, they’ll feel they owe something to Cape Town.”
Impressively, the Sharks have finished top of the log four times in the past five years, and have gone on to host the final in 2008, 2010 and 2012, winning the title twice.
By contrast, Province haven’t played a final at Newlands since 2001, which was the last time they won the trophy before breaking their 11-year drought last season.
So while the Sharks and Province will know that there is potentially plenty on the line, the reality is that talk of clinching top spot will not form any part of their pre-match chats in the change-room.
All that those discussions will revolve around are the plans they’ve put in place, and what it will take to successfully execute their strategies in what is sure to be a humdinger.
Last weekend, the Sharks conceded many penalties, and Everitt admitted this was something that they had taken stock of.
“This week our focus is on discipline because that let us down against the Bulls. We need to get that right playing a team like Western Province.”
Both sides welcome back a handful of Boks, and this has particularly changed the complexion of the two packs, where the likes of Bismarck du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen and Eben Etzebeth will add some serious physicality to proceedings.
“The factor that might have been the biggest concern would be the fatigue of the returning Springbok players, but the Currie Cup players have actually played more than the Springboks, so I don’t think that will be too much of a problem,” said Everitt.
Today: Golden Lions v Griquas, 3pm;
Free State Cheetahs v Blue Bulls, 5.05pm;
Sharks v Western Province, 7.10pm - Saturday Star