Rugby Watch

Currie Cup play-offs – all bets are open

Who will drink from the Currie Cup?
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In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes – and with the Absa Currie Cup semi-finals looming, these words, used by Benjamin Franklin, are a true as ever.

You don’t easily predict the outcome. Western Province is at the summit of the Currie Cup log, but they won’t just turn up and expect to beat the Blue Bulls at Newlands on Saturday – starting time: 17h00.

The same must be said about the Sharks, who trounced a Western Province missing fourteen of their first-choice players 28-20 at the same Newlands. The Sharks will travel to Ellispark to play against the number-2 placed team on the log, the Golden Lions – starting time 14h30 on Saturday.

The Lions were dominant in the first phases against the hapless Free State Cheetahs on Saturday and used their customary high-octane game-plan to romp to a 47-7 win against the Bloemfontein-based team.

They will use that same template against the Sharks. The Sharks will probably focus on territory to keep the Lions pinned in their own half. They will also attempt to utilize their heavy forwards to punch holes in the defensive lines of the Lions and employ the bullocking runs of their forwards to barge their way over the line.

But that ploy doesn’t always work.

The Sharks were heavily favoured to beat the Lions in the Currie Cup finals in 2011. They had the marquee-names, the Springbok pedigrees and the heavyweights. But the Lions used a magnificent fifteen-man running style, attacking from everywhere and using their quick passing and splendid off-loading skills to rout the Sharks 42-16.

Altitude and self-confidence can truly benefit the Lions on Saturday. But nothing is certain in Currie Cup semi-finals or in finals, especially if you become complacent.

Just ask the Blue Bulls who played the Sharks in their centenary year in 1990 in the finals. It was widely accepted, that the Bulls had only to turn up, and they would win. But Ian McIntosh’s team won 18-12 in that final, thanks to a match-winning try from the wing Tony Watson.

The Sharks used a very heavy pack, fortified by Steve Atherton on the flank. The Durban-team also employed a massive front row in Gerhard Harding, Tom Lawton and Guy Kebble, while André Botha and Rudi Visagie also beefed up the pack.

Many observers would not have given the Natal Sharks much of a chance that day.
Similarly, many people might not back the Bulls to cause an upset at Newlands, as Western Province has easily moved to the top of the log.

The Bulls were still off the pace with three matches to go to the play-offs in this year’s Absa Currie Cup competition. They only scampered a win against the Free State Cheetahs. The Loftus-men did improve dramatically against the Pumas and against Griqualand-West to make it to the semi-finals.

They were not always at their best in the 46-12 win against the Griqualand-West team, perhaps due to their perennial inability to finish off promising moves.

At the heart of their struggles this season has been their conservatism when in promising positions. Their 50/50-passes and poor distribution have undermined their progress.

They have also been on the receiving end of excellent use of turnover-possession. One example of a team that used turn-over very well to stun the Bulls, is Western Province. Siabelo Senatla scored one of the tries of the season against the Bulls when he finished off a splendid move started by Cheslin Kolbe.

Springbok places

The Absa Currie Cup semi-finals on Saturday will also offer one or two players an opportunity to force their way into the Springbok-team for the Northern Hemisphere tour in November.

Nizaam Carr of Western Province, Jacques du Plessis and JJ Engelbrecht of the Bulls, as well as Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel and Schalk van der Merwe of the Lions are just some of the players who might convince the Springbok-selectors to consider their credentials.

And what about the Sharks prop Thomas du Toit?

It looks as if Francois Louw, Ruan Pienaar and Willem Alberts are still nursing injuries and might not be ready for Springbok-action when the Springbok team embarks on the Northern Hemisphere tour.

There are also a few question marks about Morné Steyn at flyhalf. Currently, he is seen as the Springboks’s third-best flyhalf behind the incumbents Handré Pollard and Patrick Lambie.

But it is important that South Africa do look beyond Pollard and Lambie. Don’t forget about what happened to New Zealand in 2011. They were banking on Daniel Carter, and subsequently had to use their third-best flyhalf, Aaron Cruden, in the final of the Rugby World Cup against France.

He produced a match-winning performance, but if they discarded him prematurely, the All Blacks might have lost to the impressive French team in that all-important match.

Jaco van der Walt is a young flyhalf who could still be vowing for the number-3 Springbok spot with the France-based Johan Goosen and the Western Province general Demetri Catrakilis.

The Currie Cup semi-finals will provide the perfect stage for some players in the Springbok-queue to show-case their talent and convince the selectors that they ought to be in the mix for the tour to the United Kingdom.

by Fanie Heyns

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