CAPE TOWN - Western Province will have to get a lot of things right when they face the Sharks in the Currie Cup final at Kings Park on Saturday (4pm kickoff), and the exact same goes for the hosts.
But one thing that will undoubtedly improve Province’s chances of winning their first title since 2014 will be their ability to produce another solid performance up front, just like the one they put on show in their 19-5 semi-final celebration over the Golden Lions at Newlands at the weekend.
WP's pack bossed the Lions in the scrums a number of times, while their jumpers also did well to disrupt the Lions’ lineouts - something that was of course made easier at times by Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx’s two crucial, overthrown lineouts, which took some pressure off WP.
WP also showed quicker reaction at the breakdowns - something that coach John Dobson said was a work-on after their 31-20 win against the Sharks in the last round-robin game. And although this wasn’t limited to their forwards only, the way WP went about their business on defence, especially in the last quarter against Swys de Bruin’s side, resembled the kind of physicality and intent that can make for a dangerous weapon against a Sharks outfit that needs no schooling on how to dominate the collisions.
The contribution of the forwards is obviously always important, but it will be even more so this weekend, when WP take on the Sharks, a team that has made a few things very clear this season - the set-piece continues to be their thing, they are attentive when it comes to the areas of the field in which they “play”, and providing good front-foot ball for Curwin Bosch to do damage is an absolute priority.
That doesn’t, at all, mean that the men from Durban don’t know how to use their backs, or that they only rely on forward dominance to win their matches. Their physicality and their forward play certainly help them to bring their backs into the game and give them space, but the Sharks have also shown their intent to play with tempo.
And when it comes to those backs, the Sharks have a number of those players who have proved to be dangerous many times this season.
We’ve seen what a player like S’bu Nkosi has done this year, terrorising the opposition and being quite a force in the Sharks’ game. Unfortunately, though, the talented wing won’t feature in the showdown due to the dislocated elbow he sustained in their semi-final match against the Blue Bulls. But the Sharks still have the likes of Garth April, Kobus van Wyk, Lukhanyo Am and Odwa Ndugane, so WP will have to match the Sharks up front if they want to keep their backline in check.
But despite the Sharks’ personnel and know-how, WP have enough arsenal of their own to match the hosts, including up front.
Lock JD Schickerling continues to make 2017 a big one for himself with his workhorse performances and his lineout work, while Wilco Louw continues to show off his scrummaging repertoire that makes him such a promising tighthead at only 23. Nizaam Carr has also been huge for WP, and he played a big role again in their triumph over the Lions, while Sikhumbuzo Notshe has also shown that his skillset isn’t his only asset.
Going into Province’s backline and the threats their forwards can unleash with a dominant showing up front can become a lengthy discussion. But, point is, WP’s men with the single digits on the back of their jerseys certainly have everything it takes to produce another strong production up front.
And if they get that right on Saturday, the contest not only promises to be a good one, but one that Province can surely claim.