Sharks aiming for Currie Cup title & prize money

Currie Cup title holders Western Province host the Sharks on Saturday in the first South African Currie Cup final to offer prize money.

The champions collect $180,000 (135,000 euros) and the runners-up $120,000 as a cash incentive is introduced to the 121-year provincial championship.

Also up for grabs will be the original trophy, which had a ‘facelift’ this year at the London workshop where it was crafted for shipping company owner Donald Currie.

Initially awarded to the South African side that fared best against the touring 1891 British Isles team, it became the symbol of domestic rugby supremacy a year later.

Province were the first winners and boast a record 32 titles ahead of the Newlands showdown with Sharks, who they defeated by seven points in the final last season.

Most pundits believe the Cape Town outfit will succeed again, given home advantage, an unbeaten record this season and a potential match-winner in fly-half Demetri Catrakilis.

It is 74 years since Province suffered their only final loss at home, going down 17-6 to Transvaal (now Golden Lions) in the south-west city.

Province triumphed in eight league-stage matches — including 25-19 and 17-13 wins over Sharks — and drew the other two before outplaying Lions 33-16 last weekend in the semi-finals.

Catrakilis played a pivotal role in securing the final place, kicking five penalties and a conversion and scoring a try for a 22-point haul.

In a country blessed with top-class goal-kickers, Catrakilis ranks among the best and contributed 17 points to the 25-18 final triumph at Kings Park last season.

The field kicking of the 24-year-old has also won praise from South African fly-half legend and SuperSport TV analyst Naas Botha.

“Demetri might have the best tactical kicking game of all the South African fly-halves,” said the former star who played in 11 Currie Cup finals before his early 1990s retirement.

With the Springboks squad for November Tests in Wales, Scotland and France to be announced next Monday, Catrakilis wants to impress coach Heyneke Meyer.

Patrick Lambie, another fly-half seeking a touring-party slot, made a timely return to form last Saturday in a 33-22 semi-finals victory over Cheetahs.

Lambie, second choice behind Morne Steyn throughout the Rugby Championship, claimed 23 points from a try, three conversions and four penalties.

“Patrick was fantastic — demonstrating what a quality player he is by guiding us around the field,” said Sharks coach Brad Macleod-Henderson.

Full-strength Province are skippered by flanker Deon Fourie and boast Springbok regulars in centre Jean de Villiers, lock Eben Etzebeth and No. 8 Duane Vermeulen.

A hamstring injury sustained against Cheetahs rules out Sharks’ ball-carrying loose forward Jean Deysel, but the team includes four Springbok first-choice forwards.

Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and brother Jannie make up one of the most formidable front rows in world rugby and flanker Willem Alberts completes the quartet.

The final marks the last first-class assignment for South African referee Jonathan Kaplan, 46, who has handled a world-record 68 Tests.

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