The Currie Cup Premier division will reach an epic conclusion at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday when the Sharks will host Western Province in their seventh Currie Cup final since 1984.
While Western Province won nine of their 13 matches this season, the Sharks have lost only two matches – one of which was a 20-31 defeat against the Capetonians in their final pool match in Durban two weeks ago.
The other was a 12-47 defeat against defending champions, the Free State Cheetahs, in the opening round.
The KwaZulu-Natalians, however, pipped Western Province 21-20 in Cape Town in the first half of the competition in August.
Looking back at the recent history of Currie Cup encounters between these two coastal rivals, the biggest winning margin between the sides in their last 11 Currie Cup matches is 17 points, and in their last two Currie Cup Finals 14 points.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez made only one injury-enforced change to his team with veteran wing Odwa Ndungane replacing Sibusiso Nkosi who has been ruled out with a dislocated elbow. This resulted in Rhyno Smith being included among the replacements.
"It all comes down to this game now," said Du Preez.
"The boys have done all the hard work and I am incredibly proud of them. They have been fantastic and now it’s just to be calm and composed and that is what we are going to need on Saturday."
Du Preez added: "At the end of the day it's a Final, but it is just another rugby game. I think it is really important for us to be cool and calm going into this game.
"We have done all the work. The guys just have to go and express themselves now
Du Preez said he was delighted hosting the Final in Durban.
"Playing a final in front of your home crowd is the ultimate honour, and our players are excited to run out on Saturday in front of a passionate home crowd and to give it their all.
"This is what we've played for throughout this campaign and a home final means everything to us. This is our final 80 minutes of rugby for the season and nothing but our best will be good enough. Sticking to what has worked for us, our game management and backing our systems is key."
Western Province coach John Dobson made three personnel changes and two positional switches to his starting team with Damian Willemse returning to the run-on side at fullback, while Dillyn Leyds moves to the wing and Ruhan Nel to the midfield as a replacement for the injured EW Viljoen.
In the two changes to the loose trio, flanks Cobus Wiese and Sikhumbuzo Notshe take over from Kobus van Dyk and Jaco Coetzee respectively. Van Dyk has been named on the bench while Coetzee has been ruled out due to concussion.
Dobson believes that they have the formula to beat the Sharks once again in Durban.
"I am convinced it is about one thing and that is stopping their momentum and to put them under pressure," said Dobson.
"I can see a picture of how we win can win the game and I can see a picture of how we can lose it.
"The way we lose it is if we let in some of those big ball carriers in their pack run at us and get their offloads away and dominate us physically.
"If we stop that and deprive them of momentum, then we are in the game."
Players to watch:
For Sharks: Captain and lock Ruan Botha has been a colossus for the Durban side this year, while the Du Preez brothers, Jean-Luc and Daniel, are powerful ball runners and are integral members in the physical aspects of the game. Scrumhalf Louis Schreuder has been a calming influence in the Sharks backline this year, while flyhalf Curwin Bosch has the confidence and the skill to turn the game on its head.
For Western Province: Flyhalf Robert du Preez has been fantastic over the last few weeks and he has the game management abilities to dominate play at Kings Park. Centre Ruhan Nel has been a revelation in the backline with his pace and power, while fullback Damian Willemse is an exciting young talent who could light up Kings Park. In the pack, Cobus Wiese is an exciting prospect in the back row and in the front row, Wilco Louw is a powerhouse in the scrums.
Head to head: There should be an interesting battle in the scrums where Thomas du Toit will go head-to-head against new Springbok Wilco Louw. There is also plenty of talent in the respective back rows with big names like the Du Preez brothers, Nizaam Carr and Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Probably the most important battle on the field will be between the two flyhalves. Robert du Preez and Curwin Bosch will be competing for the Sharks No.10 jersey next season.
2017: Western Province won 31-20, Durban
2017: Sharks won 21-20, Cape Town
2016: Western Province won 34-27, Cape Town
2015: Western Province won 37-27, Durban
2014: Sharks won 28-20, Cape Town
2013: Sharks won 33-19, Cape Town (Final)
2013: Western Province won 17-13, Durban
2013: Western Province won 25-19, Cape Town
2012: Western Province won 25-18, Durban (Final)
2012: Sharks won 43-27, Durban
Currie Cup Final results between the sides:
2013: Western Province 19-33 Sharks, Cape Town
2012: Sharks 18-25 Western Province, Durban
2010: Sharks 30-10 Western Province, Durban
2001: Western Province 29-24 Sharks, Cape Town
2000: Sharks 15-25 Western Province, Durban
1995: Sharks 25-17 Western Province, Durban
1984: Western Province 19-9 Sharks, Cape Town
Sharks: 15 Garth April, 14 Jacobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Odwa Ndungane, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Tristan Blewett, 23 Rhyno Smith.
Western Province: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 John Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Werner Kok, 23 Dan Kriel.
Date: Saturday, October 28
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 16.00 (14.00 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be mostly cloudy with a high of 19°C and a low of 14°C.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds, AJ Jacobs
TMO: Marius Jonker