Underdogs ready to fire

2012-10-27 00:00

DO you really want to look Eben Etzebeth or Duane Vermeulen in the eye and tell him they are going to lose a rugby match?

No, but in today’s Currie Cup final against the Sharks in Durban, you may have to, for while Western Province are no slouches with the oval ball, they are the underdogs in this clash.

It seems the only thing counting in the Capetonians’ favour is that everyone has already written them off. This puts all the pressure on the Sharks to deliver.

That five members of WP’s squad are young enough to play in today’s U21 pre-match curtain raiser does not boost their chances much, especially as four of those youngsters — lock Etzebeth, props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe as well as hooker Scarra Ntubeni — are in WP’s scrum.

The fresh bloom of youth may yet turn the tables for WP, as this new generation came to the senior level with a winning culture and no baggage from previous losses.

Etzebeth, especially, does not know his own limits. He will celebrate his 21st birthday on Monday and shows only enthusiasm for more rugby, despite all the hard matches he has had this year.

In the past two weeks, Etzebeth made such an impact against the Lions and Cheetahs, that he had to shake hands with a sponsor after each of the games.

With rain predicted today, the Shark Tank’s pitch is likely to be wet and slippery. This will not bother WP unduly. On the contrary, a cold drizzle would make Durban feel like home for the team from the Mother City.

Pundits expect the Sharks will attack with their scrum when in WP’s half. The powerhouses they have in Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis have already proven too much for the Stormers in the Super Rugby semi-finals at Newslands.

Facing them are the brave young props Malherbe and Kitshoff — who could both easily make the Springbok team.

Rugby connoisieurs are licking their lips for this front row battle between the young bulls and the veteran stars, with many forgetting that the WP will chose to fight their battles in the lineouts.

The return of Etzebeth and Vermeulen from the Springboks has added a lot of muscle to the WP in this section. Last week, the striped jerseys won all their own balls in the line-outs, as well as two balls thrown in by the Lions.

The WP locks will today pounce on any throw-in from Sharks hooker, Craig Burden that is not pin-point accurate and ditto each jump by lock Anton Bresler that doesn’t at least seem to touch the floodlights.

Such pressure from Etzebeth and Vermeulen can generate a few turnover-balls from the Sharks’ possesion.

To neutralise this threat, Sharks’ flyhalf Patrick Lambie will have to work the same magic as he did in this position in the 2010 final.

But Lambie himself can expect a lot of pressure from WP’s Damian de Allende.

On a wet pitch, each team will use the second-phase to go over the advantage line, with Mtawarira and Willem Alberts both very good in setting up a loose maul.

The same, however, counts for Etzebeth and Vermeulen.

And with WP’s Deon Fourie ready to pounce on any loose ball like a demon, the underdogs suddenly seem to be in with a chance.

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