Every inch will count when the Bulls and Sharks cross paths in the Currie Cup final in Pretoria on Saturday in what promises to be an epic battle.
Both teams will enter the match – which will be broadcast live on SuperSport at 15h00 – highly motivated and confident in their abilities after powering their way into the final, but also because of their track records.
The Bulls will have their sights set on a fairytale season finale at their fortress, Loftus Versfeld, as a win would not only see them lift the Carling Currie Cup for the first time since 2009, it would also complete a full house of wins at their home ground this season.
The men from Pretoria will also be looking to achieve a memorable double after clinching the Super Rugby Unlocked title in November.
Jake White’s charges, however, will be wary of the Sharks’ impressive Currie Cup record against them, which currently stands at seven victories in a row.
Such has been the Durbanites’ dominance over their Pretoria rivals in the competition, the Bulls have registered only one victory against them since 2012.
The KwaZulu-Natalians won the last match between the sides by 32-29 in Durban last month, but the Bulls made easy work of their last match-up at Loftus Versfeld during the Super Rugby Unlocked competition, registering a comprehensive 41-14 victory.
The teams have met in the Currie Cup final on four previous occasions – in 2008, 2003, 1990 and 1956 – with each of them winning two.
All of this, however, will be insignificant when the sides take the field, as Saturday’s result will be all that counts.
White made only one change to the Bulls’ starting team that beat the Lions in the semi-final last weekend, with Johan Grobbelaar starting at hooker, while Schalk Erasmus will provide cover on the bench.
Duane Vermeulen will again lead the team from the back of the scrum, alongside his fellow Springbok loose forward Marco van Staden, and the exciting Elrigh Louw.
Two more Springboks, Trevor Nyakane and Lizo Gqoboka, will pack down on either side of Grobbelaar, while the backline features three Boks, the experienced Morné Steyn (flyhalf), Ivan van Zyl (scrumhalf) and Cornal Hendricks (centre).
“We have secured a place in the final but we still have 80 minutes to play,” said White.
“There are no second chances in playoff rugby and our opponents are just as eager to lift this coveted trophy. Our job is to prevent this from happening and ensuring that the Carling Currie Cup returns to Loftus Versfeld.”
Former Junior Springbok star scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse will start in a settled Sharks team in the only change to Sean Everitt’s starting side.
Everitt named the same 23-man squad that defeated Western Province 19-9 in the semi-final, with a rotational switch at scrumhalf, where Hendrikse moves up from the bench in place of Sanele Nohamba – who in turn, is named among the replacements – being the only change.
Springbok centre Lukhanyo Am will again lead the team, which features six national players, into battle. The other Boks are Sbu Nkosi (wing), Curwin Bosch (flyhalf), Sikhumbuzo Notshe (No 8), Thomas du Toit and Ox Nche (both props).
Notshe relished the opportunity to play in the final and said: “We’re thrilled to have secured a place in the final but we accept that we have a massive assignment at Loftus on Saturday afternoon.
“But it’s an assignment we’re really excited about, especially as not a lot of players in our squad have been in finals, so this is a very special occasion,” he added.
Vodacom 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.
Cell C Sharks – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu 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 Ox Nche. 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.
Carling Currie Cup Final match information:
Bulls v Sharks
Date: Saturday, 30 January 2021
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs and Griffin Colby
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen
Reserve Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
TV: SuperSport Grandstand and Rugby, Sky Sports Arena