Preview: Golden Lions v Western Province
On Saturday the Final of the Currie Cup, still the premier domestic competition, will compete for a place in the spotlight with the BIGGEST game in Rugby Union – a World Cup showdown between South Africa and New Zealand.
However, the Golden Lions and Western Province will play like, and the winners celebrate as if, they are involved in a World Cup Final.
The build-up may have been low-key – in comparison with other finals – but there is no doubt that the game will be every bit as intense and entertaining as any Final that has gone before.
Province coach John Dobson was keen to take on the underdog tag – pointing to the Lions' 62-32 win three weeks ago and their unbeaten run as reasons why pundits are likely to bank on the home team.
However, he feels the Free State Cheetahs, in last week's semifinal round, gave other teams a glimpse of how to bring the Ellis Park-based team down to earth.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann was not keen to take the 'favourites' tag offered to him by Dobson.
The wily Lions mentor feels Province have a real chance of retaining their title.
"You just have to look at their [semifinal] game against the Blue Bulls this past weekend," Ackermann told rugby365, adding: "Nobody gave them much of a chance."
Ackermann pointed to the number of Super Rugby players in the WP team and their 'X-factor players' as reasons why the odds between the two teams should be shortened.
"Players like Dillyn Leyds, [Seabelo] Senatla and [Cheslin] Kolbe are exceptional players," the Lions coach said.
"They have a great centre partnership and a Super Rugby scrumhalf. These backs have in front of them a pack of forwards who are always good in the line-outs, with Ruan Botha there. Then they have a Springbok quality front row with the likes of [Stephen] Kitshoff."
Ackermann described WP as a "well-balanced" team that have strengths across the field.
"We will have to be at our best," he told rugby365, adding: "We certainly won't be able to afford the same mistakes we made this past weekend [against the Cheetahs].
"We will no doubt have to raise the bar against WP – they are not the defending champions for nothing.
"They showed this past weekend [against the Bulls], they won't give up their title easily."
Dobson, speaking at a media briefing in Cape Town, felt the Lions are vulnerable under pressure.
"If they don't get momentum in a couple of phases they kick the ball," the WP coach said, adding: "That might give us some possession.
"The key is to be really accurate with our territory game.
"We saw [in the 32-62 loss] at Ellis Park last time, there are opportunities on defence.
"We must play in their half, with a strong kicking game, and then take the ball through phases."
Dobson said the territory game will be vital, because of the accuracy of Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff's boot.
"They punish you with turnover in your half and we are going to have to be a little conservative.
"If we win without a pass and 27 mauls, I don't care what you [the media] say afterwards.
"It will require [from minute] nought to 80 and [players] one to 22 to win this game."
Dobson named an unchanged matchday-22, while Ackermann made three changes.
Robbie Coetzee starts at hooker, with Malcolm Marx moving on the bench. Albertus Smith comes in at No.7 in place of Stephan de Witt, who moves to the replacements bench, while Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Nicolaas Hanekom (moving to the bench) swap places for the outside centre berth.
Players to watch:
For the Golden Lions: In last year's Final at Newlands the halfbacks – flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff and scrumhalf Ross Cronjé – had games they would rather forget. They are going to be key to the men from Johannesburg's prospects of getting their running game going. Boshoff's kicking game will be another important piece in the puzzle. You would look to see if young Rohan Janse van Rensburg is up to the pressure of such a big game. Then there are those highly rated loose forwards – Warren Whiteley, Albertus Smith and Jaco Kriel – as well as the front row – Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee and Jacques van Rooyen.
For Western Province: You always expect Cheslin Kolbe to produce those darting, stepping runs. Can the Lions contain him? Dillyn Leyds, another stepper, Seabelo Senatla, a Sevens star, are their other strike forces from deep. Young flyhalf Robert du Preez will also need to show he can cope with the pressures of such a high-profile play-off game. Rynhardt Elstadt will be the muscle, along with Ruan Botha.
Head to head: Just about every position is an interesting face-off worth watching, but the real battle will be in the set pieces. There is the Lions' famed scrumming power – Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee and Jacques van Rooyen – against Western Province's equally talented front row of Wilco Louw, Mbongeni Mbonambi and Steven Kitshoff. In the second row there will be a battle of the colossi – Franco Mostert (Lions) versus Ruan Botha (Western Province).
2015: Golden Lions won 62-32, Johannesburg
2014: Western Province won 19-16< Cape Town (Final)
2014: Golden Lions won 35-33, Johannesburg
2014: Western Province won 27-14, Cape Town
2013: Western Province won 33-16, Cape Town (semifinal)
2013: Western Province won 36-23, Johannesburg
2013: Golden Lions and Western Province drew 31-all, Johannesburg
Road to the Final:
Beat Eastern Province Kings 51-14
Beat Pumas 44-27
Beat Sharks 31-16
Beat Pumas 41-11
Beat Eastern Province Kings 37-21
Beat Blue Bulls 36-28
Beat Sharks 26-18
Beat Free State Cheetahs 73-31
Beat Western Province 62-32
Beat Griquas 29-19
Beat Free State Cheetahs 43-33 (semifinal)
Beat Griquas 43-19
Beat Free State Cheetahs 9-3
Lost to Blue Bulls 29-47
Lost to Free State Cheetahs 21-28
Beat Griquas 33-15
Beat Sharks 37-27
Beat Blue Bulls 29-14
Beat Pumas 50-19
Lost to Golden Lions 32-62
Beat Eastern Province Kings 45-14
Beat Blue Bulls 23-18 (semifinal)
Prediction: The Golden Lions are favourites, if only because of their unbeaten run and home ground advantage. But you would be a fool to disregard Western Province's chances. They simply have too much quality throughout their team. It is not going to be another 60-pointer. In fact it will be a real surprise if the margin even reaches double figures. However, we feel the Lions will sneak it with a late score – by five points.
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Albertus Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Fabian Booysen, 19 Stephan de Witt, 20 Jaco van der Walt, 21 Nicolaas Hanekom, 22 Sampie Mastriet.
Western Province: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (captain), 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Chris van Zyl, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Huw Jones.
Date: Saturday, October 24
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 13.45 (11.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Mostly sunny with a shower or thunderstorm a real possibility. High of 29°C (which it will reach at about kick-off time)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Jason Jaftha
TMO: Marius Jonker
By Jan de Koning