IT WILL be a thunderous meeting of contrasting styles between two Springbok-laden teams when the Sharks host Western Province in a Currie Cup clash at King’s Park on Saturday.
The result will not have a bearing on the last four, as both teams have already booked home semifinals, but it will go some way to laying markers for a final.
Western Province, leading the log with 33 points, are the only unbeaten team in the competition after seven wins and two draws.
The Sharks, by contrast, have lost twice but they arguably have had the better team throughout the brief campaign and are only a point behind Province after the same amount of wins but two losses.
In many ways the Sharks have taken the high road to the semi-finals while Province have arm-wrestled their way into the last four. Under Brendan Venter, the Durban-based union is showing a hint of swagger again. Signs that they are on the brink of an exciting era that will be taken forward by Jake White next season are evident.
Western Province appear to be running on the same treadmill of solid defence but little attacking flair as they grind opponents down with blue-collar performances. There is nothing wrong with their approach — it’s effective — but in terms of being able to produce the extraordinary, the Sharks are slightly ahead of the curve. They have scored five more tries than Western Province at this stage in the campaign despite losing twice.
But previous performances are nullified by the return of a roomful of Springboks. The likes of Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira and Pieter-Steph du Toit for the Sharks and Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and Siya Kolisi will change the dynamic in their respective teams.
The big question about including Boks after such a long Rugby Championship campaign is how motivated they will be. In this case, though, there are exceptional circumstances that could ensure both sets of international returnees maintain their high standards.
The Sharks Boks will want to impress new rugby director Jake White. The former Bok coach won’t accept mediocrity or senior players going through the motions and any bad impressions created now could have consequences next season.
Similarly Bok captain Jean de Villiers and veteran flank Schalk Burger have never won the Currie Cup. It’s a huge motivation for both and will require their best efforts over the next three weeks.
The Bulls’ semifinal chances hang by a thread as they head to Bloemfontein to take on the Cheetahs. The Pretoria side need to win with a four-try bonus point while denying the Cheetahs a point if they hope to reach the last four.