Golden Lions out to end drought
October 29, 2011
Tendai Mtawarira will form part of an all-Springbok front-row for the Sharks © Getty Images
The Natal Sharks go in search of back-to-back Asba Currie Cup crowns as they take on the Golden Lions at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The Sharks defeated Western Province 30-10 in the final of South Africa's domestic season last autumn - their second title in three years after winning the competition in 2008 as well.
The Sharks, however, face tough opponents in the Golden Lions who topped the regular season table, before defeating Western Province in the semi-final, and have home advantage in Johannesburg.
The Golden Lions will be targeting their first outright Currie Cup Final victory on home soil since 1950, when they were still called Transvaal and they beat Western Province 22-11. Since then they have won finals in Wellington, Durban and Bloemfontein, with their last victory coming in 1999.
The Lions and the Sharks both ended the regular season boasting ten victories from 14 matches with the Lions topping the standings by virtue of a draw with Free State in round 12.
While the Sharks have the best defensive record in this year's competition having conceded 29 tries prior to the play-offs, the Golden Lions have proven more potent in attack by running in 52 tries during the regular season - all suggesting a fascinating finale to this season's Currie Cup.
Golden Lions - Player to Watch: Young fly-half Elton Jantjies has made a huge impact this season and is in contention for the overall Currie Cup player of the season award. Consistent performances from the Lions pack has allowed Jantjies' individual attacking abilities to thrive but he has also performed the more practical duties - such as kicking 19 points in the semi final.
Golden Lions - Team News: Coach John Mitchell names an unchanged Lions 22 following their semi-final victory over Western Province. Joshua Strauss captains the side from No.8 alongside back-rowers Michael Rhodes and Derick Minnie. Franco van der Merwe and Wikus van Heerden provide the power and lineout expertise from second row.
Natal Sharks - Player to Watch: Like Jantjies, former France fly-half Freddie Michalak is a fly-half that loves to attack on the gainline. Michalak has enjoyed a happy return to the Sharks after signing from Toulouse earlier in the year and is also in the running to be named as player of the year. However the French maverick can at times be a liability as much as a match-winner.
Natal Sharks - Team News: The sole change to the Shark's 22 that defeated the Cheetahs in the semi-final comes on the bench where Alistair Hargreaves replaces Jacques Botes. Michalak retains the fly-half shirt, despite being replaced at half time during victory over the Cheetahs, with Patrick Lambie continuing at fullback. Lwazi Mvovo remains on the bench with JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane preferred on the wings.
Key Battle: The mesmeric attacking talents of Jantjies, Michalak, Patrick Lambie and JP Pietersen will be redundant if their respective packs cannot generate possession and momentum up front. The Sharks' all-Springbok front-row of Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira should give the visitors the power and experience in the setpiece and close exchanges.
Trivia: In the four previous Currie Cup finals between these two sides, the hosts have lost every single time.
Stats: The Lions have lost home finals in 1987 (24-18 to the Blue Bulls), 1992 (14-13 to The Sharks), 1996 (33-15 to The Sharks) and 2002 (31-7 to the Blue Bulls)
"The set piece accuracy and your ability to create pressure in that area are crucial. The game hasn't changed at all and you had an example of that over the weekend in the World Cup final. The Sharks are a very good side and very good forward pack with a heap of test players." - Golden Lions coach John Mitchell
"For us, it's about physically fronting up on the day, no matter who plays. You can't live on reputation because that's going to get you nowhere, you have to play as a team." - Sharks captain Keegan Daniel
Prediction: The Sharks superior power up front, provided by a core of Springboks, to give their backs the vital momentum and force the Golden Lions on to the back foot. Sharks to edge a close final with the Lions left to wait even longer for another Currie Cup crown.
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