DURBAN - It will be a case of once bitten twice shy for the Sharks when they host Western Province in a mouth-watering Currie Cup final at Kings Park on Saturday (4pm).
In a timeous wake-up call two weeks ago for the Durbanites, the Capetonians rudely halted the Sharks seemingly inexorable march to the final with a deserved victory that earned the visitors a home semi-final.
The reality jolt saw a re-energised Sharks team get back on track in last week’s semi-final where they convincingly beat a game Bulls side.
“We can’t forget what happened against Province,” Sharks backline coach Sean Everett said on Monday after the squad had put in a spirited training session.
“In the first half-hour of that game we were well and truly on top, and that is the positive we take from that performance, but we equally have to take on board how we stopped playing in the second half. There was a complete energy slump. Obviously the lesson is that you have to give it your all for 80 minutes. That is what finals are all about.”
The Sharks trained in heat on Monday they have not experienced since Super Rugby and there was no disguising the excitement that is unavoidable in Cup final week.
One player who is unfortunately out of the match is wing S’bu Nkosi, who dislocated his elbow in the semi-final.
That opens the door for a potential fairytale ending to Odwa Ndungane’s distinguished career at the Sharks.
Otherwise, no changes are expected in the squad and, like last week, the refrain from the coaching staff is to keep matters as “normal” as possible.
“A Currie Cup final at home is what we coach and play for, but you also have to keep your feet on the ground and approach the final as you have any important game in the campaign,” Everett said.
“Our training schedule is exactly the same as it has been all season. There is some specific detail that we will consider but otherwise we will stick to what has worked for us.”
The Sharks have also “gone to school” on areas of their game that were not up to scratch in the semi-final.
“We gave away far too many penalties against the Bulls and we can’t repeat that," Everett said. "The guys need to hold back at times. It will make our job a lot easier on Saturday if we are disciplined. We also had a number of soft moments that kept the Bulls in the game. We will work hard this week on getting closer to the complete performance.”
As history has proven, finals often come down to the game management of the respective flyhalves and both teams have in-form players in this regard.
A fortnight ago, Robert du Preez jr took the Sharks to pieces in the second half to orchestrate Province’s victory, while the Sharks have Mr Cool, Curwin Bosch, at the helm.
“Curwin has repeatedly shown that he has the temperament for the big games,” Everett said. “A good example of that was his drop goal in the second half against the Bulls last week. It came at a vital time. We were under pressure and leading by just four points, and that drop goal took us to a seven-point cushion.”
It is not the first time this season that a Bosch drop goal out of the blue has delivered a sucker punch to the opposition. Having a player in your ranks who can snap over drop goals at important times is priceless, especially in a final.
“Curwin’s game management has come on really well this year,” Everett said. “We are very pleased at how his attacking skills have grown. He has always had a strong kicking game and now he is also asking questions of the defence with ball in hand. He is taking the ball to the gain line nicely.”