Currie Cup Preview Sharks vs. Lions Western Province vs. Blue Bulls

Sharks vs. Lions, Kings Park, 14:30 (SAT)

The Sharks will host the Golden Lions in Durban on Saturday afternoon in the first Currie Cup final, with both teams coming off comfortable wins. The Sharks put 41 points past the Griquas in a dead rubber, while the Lions secured their semifinal after a win over the Pumas in Nelspruit.

The same fixture at the same venue was won by the hosts during the regular season, but the Lions' returning Springboks could provide a different challenge for the hosts.

Elton Jantjies, Warren Whiteley, Lionel Mapoe and Aphiwe Dtantyi have all played a role for the Springboks this season, and now they are available and have been selected to start in a team that has the potential to thrill.

The Sharks have also been strengthened by returning players, but theirs are mostly back from injury.

Coenie Oosthuizen and Jean-Luc du Preez each made their comeback in the latter part of the season, and they have been named on the Sharks' bench and will add some grunt when they are introduced.

S'bu Nkosi has also recovered from an injury that has kept him sidelined for most of the Currie Cup season, while Leolin Zas has made his presence felt in his few appearances.

The different lineups from the last time the teams played each other makes for an exciting semifinal that could go either way.

How the Sharks can win...

It all starts up front for the Sharks. Their big, strong forwards will be key to their chances. The pack, as well as Marius Louw, a strong ball carrier in the backs, will be crucial to giving the home team crucial front-foot ball on attack. Dominant defence from the same players coupled with Curwin Bosch's boot from the back has the potential to starve the Lions of quality ball and keep the visitors pinned in their own half to thwart their exciting attacking options.

How the Lions can win...

Setting up the backs to succeed is key to the visitors' chances. They will have to match the Sharks' physicality to provide a strong platform for the playmakers outside them to do what they do best. Elton Jantjies throwing late and flat passes to the likes of Lionel Mapoe and Aphiwe Dyantyi off front-foot ball is enough to scare almost any defence. On the defensive side of the ball, dealing with the Sharks' powerful carriers will be crucial to staying in the game.

Key matchup: Curwin Bosch vs. Sylvian Mahuza

Territory can be crucial in 'finals rugby', which could lead to both teams kicking more than usual for positive field position.

While both of these players have exhilarating pace and an eye for a gap, it is their contribution to that kicking game that could go a long way to deciding the match.

The player who does a better job of dealing with the opposition's kicks and makes his presence felt more with the boot will contribute to setting up a win for his side.


Sharks: Curwin Bosch, S'bu Nkosi, Jeremy Ward, Marius Louw, Lwazi Mvovo, Robert du Preez, Louis Schreuder (captain), Daniel du Preez, Tyler Paul, Jacques Vermeulen, Hyron Andrews, Gideon Koegelenberg, Thomas du Toit, Akker van der Merwe, Juan Schoeman.

Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Mzamo Majola, Coenie Oosthuizen, Luke Stringer, Jean-Luc du Preez, Cameron Wright, Leolin Zas, Aphelele Fassi.

Lions: Sylvian Mahuza, Courtnall Skosan, Lionel Mapoe, Howard Mnisi, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Elton Jantjies, Nic Groom (captain), Warren Whiteley, Pikkie de Villiers, James Venter, Marvin Orie, Rhyno Herbst, Jacobie Adriaanse, Pieter Jansen, Sti Sithole.

Replacements: Tiaan van der Merwe, Danie Mienie, Chergin Fillies, Vincent Tshituka, Hacjivah Dayimani, Dillon Smit, Shaun Reynolds, Wandisile Simelane.

Prediction: Sharks by 12

Western Province vs. Blue Bulls, Newlands, 17:00 (SAT)

John Dobson's Western Province have been irresistible this season, but they have hardly broken a sweat. Their smallest margin of victory was 22 points against the Sharks, but even that 50-28 win was a bit of a blowout.

WP beat the Bulls 34-7 in a rain-drenched match at Loftus Versfeld, which was called off after halftime. So they are massive favourites, not only to progress to the final next weekend but also to defend their crown.

But the fact that WP haven't really been tested this year is a bit of a concern.

"We haven't really been stress-tested this season. It is a big worry," Dobson said this week.

"We haven't been forced into those dark spaces. It's something we've been speaking about a lot in the buildup to this game. That's when you show character.

"I know what this side is capable of, though, and I'm confident they will hit back if they find themselves in that situation this Saturday."

The Bulls will certainly be up for this match, as they have been largely written off ahead of the clash. They will be a lot more direct, and will look to slow down the ball and deprive the Province backline of quick ball.

How Western Province can win it ...

Last week the Province scrum absolutely hammered the Bulls, which set up their victory in the wet. Wilco Louw will again lead the charge from the tighthead position, while Ali Vermaak is one of the most underrated looseheads in the country. But WP's biggest strength is their exciting backs, with young flyhalf Damian Willemse ready to ignite a backline with match winners such as Dillyn Leyds, Sergeal Petersen and Ruhan Nel. If they get quality ball, they will be a handful for the inexperienced Bulls backs.

How the Bulls can win it ...

The Bulls have moved Springboks prop Trevor Nyakane to loosehead to try to combat the expected onslaught from Louw. It's going to be important for the Bulls to hold their own at scrum time because penalties will lead to field position for the home team, while yellow cards will also come into play. The Bulls need to take on the hosts upfront and play direct to carve out holes in the centre of the park. They have to big boys in the centre who have the ability to test any defensive line.

Key matchup: Damian Willemse vs. Manie Libbok

This is a match of two of South Africa's most exciting flyhalf prospects, with both players capable of setting Newlands alight with their brilliant running skills.

Willemse is well known for his attacking play, as he is a lethal runner and a player who can put his dangerous backs into play. He is also a player who can be direct, while he is also a very good defender.

Libbok didn't have the greatest game against Western Province in terrible conditions last week, but he is unlikely to produce a similar performance. The former South Africa Under-20 player is also a great runner with ball in hand, and he has an underrated boot.


Western Province: Dillyn Leyds, Sergeal Petersen, Ruhan Nel, Dan Kriel, SP Marais, Damian Willemse, Herschel Jantjies, Juarno Augustus, Ernst van Rhyn, Kobus van Dyk, JD Schickerling, Chris van Zyl (captain), Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Ali Vermaak.

Replacements: Chad Solomon, Caylib Oosthuizen, Michael Kumbirai, Salmaan Moerat, Jaco Coetzee, Paul de Wet, Josh Stander, JJ Engelbrecht.

Blue Bulls: Divan Rossouw, Duncan Matthews , Dylan Sage, Jonny Kotze, Jade Stighling, Manie Libbok, Ivan van Zyl, Hanro Liebenberg (captain), Marco van Staden, Ruan Steenkamp, Eli Snyman, Hendré Stassen, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Jaco Visagie, Trevor Nyakane.

Replacements: (two to be omitted): Edgar Marutlulle, Frans van Wyk, Conrad de Beer, Ruan Nortje, Nic de Jager, Embrose Papier, Tinus de Beer, Franco Naude, André Warner.

Prediction: Western Province by 15