The Sharks will be looking to win the Absa Currie Cup for the third time in five seasons on Saturday when they host DHL Western Province at Mr Price Kings Park in Durban (kick-off 17h00).
WP, meanwhile, will look to end an 11-year title drought, having last won the iconic trophy in 2001 at DHL Newlands – ironically also against The Sharks.
A look at the list of winners this millennium will reveal that The Sharks and WP have contested three finals, with the Cape side winning in 2000 (25-15 in Durban) and 2001 (29-24 in Cape Town).
The Sharks’ solitary win came in 2010 at Mr Price Kings Park when 25 points from Pat Lambie helped the Durbanites to a 30-10 victory over Allister Coetzee’s men.
Saturday’s final will be the seventh The Sharks have been involved in since 2000, with two wins (in 2010 over WP and 2008 over the Vodacom Blue Bulls, both at home). Apart from the losses in 2000 and 2001 to WP, they also lost the 2003 final to the Blue Bulls and 2011 final to the MTN Golden Lions.
Saturday’s final will be WP’s fourth since 2000, with all three previous meetings having been against The Sharks.
Sharks coach John Plumtree has selected 13 Springboks in his match-day squad, with nine of them starting. The pack shows four changes, with prop Tandai Mtawarira, hooker Craig Burden, lock Steven Sykes and flanker Willem Alberts all promoted to the run-on team after having sat on the bench in the team’s 20-3 semi-final victory over the Vodacom Blue Bulls last weekend.
“The squad is all together now, we have been for a couple weeks, so there were fewer selection headaches for me,” said Plumtree.
“We do feel for the players that are left out, that makes it hard on those who went through the whole campaign and might not be involved.”
WP’s match-day squad announced by coach Coetzee boasts six Under-21 players as well as six players who have played Test rugby for South Africa. In the only change to the team that beat defending champions the MTN Golden Lions in last week’s semi-final, Damian de Allende will partner Juan de Jongh in midfield, with Marcel Brache dropping to the bench.
“We have got to be accurate in the conditions, we have got to kick well, we have got to chase well, be good in the air, our breakdown work has got to be accurate also and make sure that we give (halfbacks) Nic Groom and Demetri Catrakilis a good platform and good ball,” said Coetzee.
“You can only be a true champion if you go away from home and win a Currie Cup trophy. So it is really a matter of applying and understanding that the pressure will be there.”
Vodacom Blue Bulls flyhalf Louis Fouché tops the Premier Division point-scoring log going into the final, with 137 points made up of 13 conversions, 35 penalties and 2 drop goals. Behind Fouché in second place on 119 is DHL WP pivot Demetri Catrakilis, with GWK Griquas flyhalf Francois Brummer third on 113.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs wing Raymond Rhule tops the try-scoring table ahead of the final with eight touchdowns, with Sharks wing Odwa Ndungane and Griquas wing Rocco Jansen tied for second place, with seven tries apiece.
This weekend’s fixture – The Final:
The Sharks vs DHL Western Province
Date: Saturday, 27 October
Venue: Mr Price Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistants: Christie du Preez, Stefan Breytenbach
Television Match Official: Johann Meuwesen
The Sharks – 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
DHL WP – 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Don Armand, 6 Deon Fourie (c), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Marcel Brache, 22 Joe Pietersen.
Absa Currie Cup Final results 2000-2011
2000 Sharks 15-25 WP
2001 WP 29-24 Sharks
2002 Lions 7-31 Blue Bulls
2003 Blue Bulls 40-19 Sharks
2004 Blue Bulls 42-33 Free State
2005 Blue Bulls 25-29 Free State
2006 Free State 28-28 Blue Bulls
2007 Free State 20-18 Lions
2008 Sharks 14-9 Blue Bulls
2009 Blue Bulls 36-24 Free State
2010 Sharks 30-10 WP
2011 Lions 42-16 Sharks
Most titles won:
31 – WP (last title in 2001, also shared four times)
23 – Blue Bulls (last title 2009, also shared four times)
10 – Lions (last title 2011, also shared once)
6 – Sharks (last title 2010)
4 – Free State (last title 2007, also shared once)
Absa Currie Cup Final records:
Highest winning score: 56-33 (Transvaal vs Free State, 1994)
Most tries by a team: 7 (Transvaal vs Free State, 1994)
Most points by a player: 26 (Derick Hougaard, Blue Bulls vs Lions, 2002)
Most conversions: 6 (Gavin Johnson, Transvaal vs Free State, 1994)
Most penalties: 6 (Thierry Lacroix, Natal vs WP, 1995)
Most drop goals: 4 (Naas Botha, Northern Transvaal vs Transvaal, 1987)
Most appearances: 11 (Burger Geldenhuys, 1977-89; Naas Botha 1977-91)