After watching the Bulls/Sharks and the WP/Cheetahs semi-finals a couple of times I reckon the crucial factor in this match is going to be depth or penetration on attack.
Depth can mean different things to different people depending how you look at it. I use the the word depth within context of making contact on the defenders side of the gain line (taking the ball up in speed or running onto the ball). Most importantly depth, for me, refers to forcing the opponents defensive line to turn around. So I distinguish between having depth which is layers of attackers running onto the ball and creating depth which is taking the ball up at speed; punching holes in the defensive line; forcing the defensive line to break up and re-position.
The Sharks and WP play very similar rugby with an emphasis on keeping the ball and generating quick ball. The Sharks seems for me better at this type of game mostly because they create more and better depth on attack.
Both teams still don’t demonstrate the same level of penetration or depth creation on attack than the All Blacks; this (depth before recycle) is the cornerstone of the AB’s success/game plan. However, the Sharks are able to create a little more penetration with the ball carrier and this is mostly due to McLeod (No9) with his snipping runs around the fringes and Lambie lying flatter and having angled runners playing off him as a pivot. De Waal is lying to deep and Januarie and Duvenage angle sideways when they get the ball rarely taking the ball foreward at speed to create depth or to force the defensive line to fall back and re-align.
If you have two lines (one carrying the ball and the other defending) running into each other you need to penetrate or create depth (punch holes) to get the defenders to turn around. If you set the ball up with the defensive line still intact you have accomplished nothing; you need to get the defenders to turn around two or three times in a row, at speed, before you send it wide. This is how you create the gaps. Province against the Cheetahs was just shifting the ball sideways with very little variation (angled runners) and with no real penetration. De Waal was lying to deep to act as a pivot and province were therefore relying on Habana and Aplon to create line breaks every now and again coming in at speed from the back.
The Sharks play with a lot more variation on attack and do it flat on the defensive line. They keep the defence guessing with layers of angled runners coming off McLeod and then off Lambie or off a forward standing wide and receiving a flat pass. They also have runners coming in against the traffic and Keegan Daniels have scored a couple of tries this way this season and he used this manoeuvre very effectively against the bulls to force the defensive line to break-up and re-align (creating depth on attack). Another thing the Sharks does is they will play the ball flat then pass it back to a player standing deep who will then flat pass to a player standing wide who will then immediately pop it up for a fast angled runner coming in very close on the shoulder of the last receiver. They pull opposition players this way out of their defensive lines and in doing so are able to bridge the defensive line.
If you go and look at the Sharks first try against the bulls (Keegan Daniel’s try) you will notice they kept the ball going for quite a while and in that time span they used 10-15 variations when moving the ball down the line. Not only does this the variations pull the defenders out of their defensive channels but it also allow the sharks to punch holes and force the opponents to turn round and re-group. It is when they recycle these depth-balls that McLeod snipe around the fringes or that the gaps open up wider. On one snipe McLeod angled sideways -instead of straight as usual- drawing the defender on him and back passed to Daniels who ran through the gap -so created- to go and score.
The team that can create depth on attack is going to win and the Sharks seem to me to be just a little better organised and structured when they carry the ball. Province seems to be so focussed on recycling that they forget that the first principle is to create depth.
The Sharks tight five also appear to me better organised and more involved as blow-over cavalry than what is the case with WP.
The Sharks locks had a good game against top SA locking partners Matfield and Botha and with WP still missing Bekker I think the Sharks might have some advantage in the lineouts.
Lastly, looking at the ball carrying ability of the backrow the Sharks loose trio seemed to me to be more involved, better supported and making better decisions with the ball in hand than the WP loosies.
So in summary I think this match is going to be won by the team that not only are best able to keep possession but who -more importantly- can use their ball better in terms of creating depth on attack.
Even though it pains me to say this as a WP supporter my observation after watching the semi-finals a couple of times is that the Sharks are the superior team in this regard (creating depth on attack) and I predict them to win because of this very reason.