Bulls v Sharks - teams and predictions
CURRIE CUP FINAL: Despite all the adversarial comments about the poor state of South African rugby, the interest and excitement have gone through the roof in the last few days.
Bulls coach Jake White, a man familiar with playing in and winning major finals, put it succinctly when asked what Saturday’s Loftus Versfeld Grand Finale means to him and his team.
“It is an incredible achievement to play in a Final and an incredible achievement to host a Final,” White told an online pre-match media briefing.
Then he put the game into perspective.
“Guys like Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers have never won the Currie Cup,” he said, adding: “Some of the greatest players I have coached have never won a Currie Cup.”
He said his message to the team is to “enjoy” the occasion.
“We have worked hard to get a home final and we showed we can beat these sides.”
He also dropped another pearler.
“We have done well [to reach the Final], but we have won nothing yet.”
Sharks coach Sean Everitt also ramped up the pre-match build-up when he said it remains the ultimate prize in South African rugby.
“The Currie Cup is the cherry on top and that is what you are playing for,” Everitt said in his virtual media briefing.
He said they made a point of getting rid of the ‘fear of failure’ and told the players not to be scared to make mistakes.
He also spoke of going out and “enjoy the occasion”.
This will be the fourth Currie Cup Final Everitt will be involved in and he was on the winning side in two of the previous three finals.
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White added that the Final, like all finals, will be a physical and even brutal affair.
“The Bulls are a driven and proud team,” he said, adding: “It is a Final and the reality is and I have been in enough finals to know how it works.”
Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen – during the team’s last meeting, back in December – produced one of the best on-field chirps in the face of some overzealous refereeing.
He asked Sharks counterpart Lukhanyo Am: “Should we rather play touch rugby?”
This followed after a player from each side was yellow-carded for big hits.
White suggested the teams are unlikely to tone down their physicality.
“When he [Vermeulen] made that comment, what he said was let’s play it properly, let’s make it tough enough,” the Bulls Director of Rugby said.
“Whoever gives it, must be able to take it. It is part of his [Vermeulen’s] mantra. That is what people respect about him. That is what is so nice about him as a captain and coaching the Bulls.
“It is going to the tough, but there is a buzz.”
White said desire will be crucial on Saturday.
“Hollywood stars don’t become champion boxers, they [champions] come out the ghetto. We [the Bulls] haven’t won it for 11 years and we are hungry.”
The Sharks coach, Everitt, pointed to discipline as a key aspect at Loftus.
“In finals, you [always] look at discipline,” he said, adding: “The Lions gave away 20 penalties against the Bulls [in their semifinal at Loftus Versfeld] last week and suffered [a loss] because of that.
“We also put ourselves under pressure by giving away 20 penalties [in our semifinal] against Western Province.
“As we know, the ball flies a lot further at altitude in Pretoria. Giving away penalties are going to cost you a three-pointer or an opportunity to the opposition to maul you, which the Bulls are really good at. It also comes down to the error rate.”
White also spoke of limiting errors.
“I have been lucky enough to have been in quite a few finals and play-off games, it never takes away the pressure that comes with it. I have never coached in the Currie Cup, so this is my first [Currie Cup] Final.
“I feel pressure, but it is nice pressure.
“You will make mistakes, but when you get an opportunity you must take it. We must use all the experience we have – experience is a massive thing.”
The other key element is the weather – with rain having bucketed down this week in Pretoria and the chance of a thunderstorm on Saturday.
White admitted the selection of Jaden Hendrikse ahead of Sanele Nohamba at scrumhalf by the Sharks is because of the former’s kicking game.
“They do kick more than any other team,” he said, adding: “This past weekend their No.9 and No.10 kicked 29 times. They also kicked 28 times when we played them in Durban [in December]. When they lost to the Lions they [only] kicked 16 times.”
Players to watch
For the Bulls: The leadership and experience of Duane Vermeulen will be vital, as will that of fellow veteran Springbok Morné Steyn at flyhalf. The creativity and powerful running of Cornal Hendricks is another aspect that could create that one moment of magic that could wins the game.
For the Sharks: You don’t have to look much further than captain fantastic Lukhanyo Am – as Jake White himself put it: ‘One of the best centres in the world at present.’ There is the skill and counter-attacking of Aphelele Fassi, raw pace and power of Sibusiso Nkosi, and the workrate of Marius Louw. The boots of Curwin Bosch and Jaden Hendrikse will also play big roles.
Head to head
There will be intriguing and delectable encounters all over the park. The battle between the No.8s – Duane Vermeulen (Bulls) and Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Sharks) – was a common thread in all three encounters since the game has returned from its initial lockdown in 2020. Opinion is divided as to has won those face-offs. Flyhalf is another position that will play a massive role – the booming boots of Morné Steyn (Bulls) and Curwin Bosch (Sharks). The breakdown battle will have Marco van Staden (Bulls) and Dylan Richardson (Sharks) scrapping in out on the ground. Not to forget the set pieces – particularly the scrums if it is wet: Trevor Nyakane, Johan Grobbelaar and Lizo Gqoboka (Bulls) versus Thomas du Toit, Fezokuhle Mbatha and Retshegofaditswe Nché (Sharks).
Last 10 Currie Cup encounters
2013: Sharks 18-16, Pretoria
2014: Sharks won 26-15, Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 17-13, Durban
2016: Sharks won 26-19, Durban
2017: Sharks won 28-20: Pretoria
2017: Sharks 18-5, Durban
2017: Sharks 37-27, Durban
2018: Sharks 26-10, Durban
2019: Sharks 48-40, Pretoria
2020: Sharks 32-29, Pretoria
Currie Cup finals last 10 years
2010: Sharks 30 WP 10, Durban
2011: Lions 42 Sharks 16, Johannesburg
2012: Sharks 18 WP 25, Durban
2013: WP 19 Sharks 33, Cape Town
2014: WP 19 Lions 16, Cape Town
2015: Lions 32 WP 24, Johannesburg
2016: Cheetahs 36 Bulls 16, Bloemfontein
2017: Sharks 21 WP 33, Durban
2018: WP 12 Sharks 17, Cape Town
2019: Cheetahs 31 Lions 28, Bloemfontein
Number of Finals: 57
Number of Times in a Final
Northern Transvaal/Blue Bulls/Bulls: 32
Western Province: 28
Transvaal/Golden Lions/Lions: 21
Free State: 14
Eastern Transvaal/Falcons: 1
Griqualand West: 1
Number of victories in finals
Bulls: 22 (including four draws)
WP: 13 (including two draws)
Lions: Nine (including a draw)
Cheetahs: six (including a draw)
Griqualand West: One
Currie Cup winners
Western Province 34, four shared – last win 2017
Northern Transvaal/Blue Bulls/Bulls 23, four shared – last win 2009
Transvaal/Gauteng Lions/Golden Lions/Lions 11, one shared – last win 2015
Natal/Sharks 8 – last win 2018
Orange Free State/Free State/Cheetahs 6 One shared – last win 2019
Griqualand West/Griquas 3 – last win 1970
Border/Border Bulldogs 2 Two shared – last win 1934
@rugby365com: Bulls by five points
Bulls: 15 David Kriel, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements – from: 16 Schalk Erasmus, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Jan Uys, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Marnus Potgieter, 24 Nizaam Carr, 25 Gerhard Steenekamp, 26 Keagan Johannes, 27 Jade Stighling.
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Marius Louw, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 JJ van der Mescht, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Fezokuhle Mbatha, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nché
Replacements: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Michael Kumbirai, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Manie Libbok.
Date: Saturday, January 30
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 15.00 (13.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Considerable cloudiness, with a probability thunderstorms. High of 25°C and low of 18°C
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs and Griffin Colby
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen
* Statistics provided by Eddie Grieb