Just like in 1990, the Sharks are massive underdogs going
into Saturday’s Currie Cup final against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
The difference in 2021 is that the Bulls of this era, unlike the late 1980s vintage, had Currie Cup success to fall back on.
As well as this group under Jake White has played, they still have the specter of not winning a Currie Cup since 2009 to deal with.
The Bulls though have been the best team in the tournament and showed this in the semi-final win against the Lions.
They also dispensed of the Sharks easily at home twice this season, but lost to them in Durban.
The Sharks, whose form was patchy during the round-robin stages, did their homework for their Western Province semi-final success.
Can they spring a surprise nearly 31 years on from what remains one of the biggest shocks in Currie Cup history? Here’s five reasons on why and how they could and should upset the applecart:
The Bulls are an all-round team, but the Sharks found parity against an even stronger Western Province pack. When the Bulls were in Durban, the Sharks also had parity and were able to have serious call on proceedings. When the Bulls have been matched, which was also the case against the Cheetahs and the Pumas, they struggled to find a response. However, those games weren’t at Loftus, something the Sharks will think deeply about considering how badly they’ve been beaten.
In Bosch, the Sharks have the form 10
Morne Steyn had some legendary play-off battles against Pat Lambie and now he’s confronted by Curwin Bosch. Bosch may not have Lambie’s experience, but has shown his match-winning abilities. Steyn cannot be underestimated and at times, he’s shown glimpses of his younger self with deft touches and excellent passes. He’s also got the international experience that Bosch doesn’t have. What Bosch has is confidence of being backed and trusted by his team-mates and coaches. That goes a long way for a player, especially of Bosch’s ilk.
JJ’s time to shine
JJ van der Mescht’s still wet behind the ears, but what he lacks in age, he makes up for in power and dynamism. Sharks coach Sean Everitt started him at four against Western Province and will do the same for the final. A big, bruising and mobile number four lock is a menace for every team, but Van Der Mescht has given the Sharks the necessary beef that’s been missing in their pack.
The tank that is Thomas du Toit
There’s always been a feeling that Thomas du Toit has lived on his schoolboy reputation. He’s switched that up this year with some fine performances. The Bulls scrum has been efficient without being world beaters, but their backs have made the most of their opportunities with ball in hand. Du Toit’s form will be critical in the final and if he can help the Sharks gain an advantage, things could be sticky for the Bulls.
Aphelele Fassi’s return
Aphelele Fassi’s return to the Sharks from injury has also forced teams to think differently when it comes to their kicking game. In Steyn, the Bulls have the best tactical kicking exponent, but in Fassi, the Sharks have the best counter-attacker in SA. In Fassi, the Sharks also have a tall fullback who contests well in the air and has a boot to keep the Bulls in check. If the Bulls aren’t able to get an efficient kicking game going because of Fassi, that’s one less problem for the Sharks.