Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Date: Saturday, September 11
The top two seeds from the league play of the Currie Cup made it to the final last weekend as the Blue Bulls defeated a spirited Western Province side 48-31 and the Sharks escaped with a 28-24 win over the valiant Griquas.
The Bulls looked formidable in their win as five capped Springboks went over to score and they outpaced Western Province by five tries to three. It was the way the Bulls controlled the semi-final that was most impressive as they controlled the flow of the game from the very beginning. Sure, there were some penalty issues and an occasional missed tackle defensively, but their attack was simply outstanding as they attacked Western Province with a combination of flair and power that the visitors simply couldn’t cope with.
The Sharks knew that Griquas had enough to beat them – they had already lost 37-27 to their visitors at Kings Park back in July – and they turned to a grind-it-out approach to pick up a narrow four-point win. The Sharks used a combination of set-piece dominance and better discipline – especially in the second half – to beat a team that wouldn’t allow them to get the upper hand with their phase play and attack lines in the backs. If they are to have any chance of upsetting the mighty Bulls then the Sharks will have to do a far better job of finishing their attacks and turning territory into points as they made far too many mistakes in promising positions in their semi-final.
The Bulls were dealt a massive blow on the eve of the final when Springbok flyhalf – and potentially the best player in the Currie Cup this year – Johan Goosen was ruled out of the contest due to a positive Covid-19 test. This means that Chris Smith will get the start in the No. 10 jersey and he will be tasked with providing the same dynamic flair that the Bulls showed in their semi-final win. The other change to the starting XV sees Joe van Zyl get the nod at hooker over Schalk Erasmus. This is a consistent and dependable team that will take some beating.
The Sharks are sticking with largely the same side that beat Griquas, hoping that the continuity and a little extra focus both on the training pitch and in the match will clear up the errors from one week ago. The two changes that have been made should – in theory – make the Sharks even more powerful upfront, with Springbok Thomas du Toit returning to play at tighthead and Khwezi Mona starting the game at loosehead. The only other change is on the bench where No. 9 Lucky Diepu could make his Sharks debut in the biggest domestic game of the year from the pine.
I like the Bulls to win at pace, but the line of -22.5 looks huge – especially without Goosen in the lineup. There is no value in taking the Bulls straight up, but taking the Sharks +22.5 with BetXchange seems like good value.