Sport

Currie Cup finals: The last, desperate fights

By Ken Borland 11 October 2013

Another Saturday and another crunch game for Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and Adriaan Strauss. The Currie Cup enters its final round of league action this weekend and desperate provinces are rushing their exhausted Springboks back into action in order to ensure an optimum finish to the competition. By KEN BORLAND.

The Sharks take on Western Province in Durban in a top-of-the-log encounter that could decide who hosts this year’s final. Having sat at the top of the standings for most of the competition, both teams are already guaranteed home semi-finals.

However badly the Sharks and their new CEO John Smit erred in their handling of the departure of former coach John Plumtree, the on-field performance has not been affected.

Western Province, meanwhile, have had bad days and good days, but they are unbeaten in this year’s Currie Cup, draws with the Bulls and the Lions being the closest they have come to defeat.

And the Sharks are hoping that the Zimbabwean-born loosehead who goes by the name of Beast and the two Du Plessis brothers alongside him in the front row will lay the platform that allows them to beat the team that vanquished them in last year’s final.

Heyneke Meyer, meanwhile, will be desperately hoping that the same players that make up his Springbok front row don’t succumb to the injury curse that is almost inevitable the more high-intensity rugby one plays without a break.

While the Sharks coaching staff have shown no mercy to their Springbok front row, they have confusingly kept Pat Lambie, who really could do with some meaningful time out on the field, on the bench.

Western Province coach, Allister Coetzee, has at least shown some compassion and common sense by only choosing heroic Springbok captain, Jean de Villiers, on the bench. But with the Cape public ever ready to throw angry barbs his way if they don’t defend their Currie Cup title, he has felt the need to include the over-worked Etzebeth and Vermeulen in the starting line-up.

While the Sharks and Western Province – the two best sides in the competition – will no doubt compete vigorously to probably decide where the Currie Cup final will be held this year, it is in Bloemfontein where the most desperation will be on show.

The Bulls, currently fifth on the log, need to pull off an unlikely coup against the Cheetahs. They need to beat the Free Staters with a bonus point and prevent their hosts from earning any log points at all. It’s an uphill task remarkably identical to what the Springboks had to try and do against the All Blacks last weekend, and we all know how that turned out.

Angling for four tries opens up the risk of conceding tries at the other end, and all the Cheetahs need to do is score four tries themselves or finish within seven points of the Bulls and a semi-final place is their’s.

That will leave the Bulls to lick their wounds after another unsuccessful Currie Cup campaign that could spell the end of Pine Pienaar’s tenure as coach. Even if the Bulls do pull off a miraculous late reprieve, the Cheetahs can still make the semi-finals if the Golden Lions fail to beat Griquas at Ellis Park, but that is unlikely.

Cheetahs coach, Naka Drotske, can also call on an all-Springbok front row in Strauss and props, Coenie Oosthuizen and Trevor Nyakane, but, as with the likes of De Villiers, Jannie du Plessis and Etzebeth, one has to wonder how much more punishment the blond hooker’s body can take before it breaks down?

That’s why Meyer has been campaigning for the Springbok coach to have the authority of a rugby supremo who can order nationally-contracted players to be rested, as is the case in New Zealand.

For the All Blacks, the second half of the year is like running up a knoll as most of them are withdrawn from competition, compared to the Springboks, who have a mountain to overcome with crunch Currie Cup games added to their burden on top of SuperRugby, incoming Tests, the Rugby Championship and the end-of-year tour.

The All Blacks management even governs their players’ SuperRugby involvement and it is little wonder that the world champions tend to look pert and focused whenever they have Test duties, even at the end of the Rugby Championship after flying from Argentina and playing at altitude.

Never mind the results in these last three weeks of the Currie Cup, Meyer will consider it a tremendous coup if the 30-odd players he has lined up for the European tour next month manage to keep out of harm’s way. In the meantime, they are under the control of their slave-driver provinces.

And the Cheetahs could in fact be guilty of the most nonsensical selection of them all this weekend if Drotske rushes flyhalf Johan Goosen back into action off the bench against the Bulls, after torn knee ligaments and a burst appendix.

Drotske has confirmed that he is just waiting on the results of a late fitness test before naming the 21-year-old as one of his replacements. If that happens, Goosen will definitely see action because he has to come on to the field during the round-robin phase in order to be eligible for the playoffs.

So the future wellbeing of one of the country’s most-promising players is being risked for the short-term benefit of a province that has its eyes on winning the Currie Cup, even though it has won less than 50% of their matches in this year’s competition.

As with so many other things in South African rugby, the national good is being sacrificed on the altar of localised interests.

No wonder Heyneke Meyer often looks like a really frustrated guy. DM

Fixtures: Golden Lions v Griquas (Ellis Park, 15h00); Free State Cheetahs v Blue Bulls (Bloemfontein, 17h05); The Sharks v Western Province (King’s Park, 19h10).

Teams

Golden Lions: Chrysander Botha; Deon Helberg, Lionel Mapoe, Andries Coetzee, Anthony Volmink; Marnitz Boshoff, Michael Bondesio; Warren Whiteley, Derick Minnie, Warwick Tecklenburg; Franco van der Merwe, Chris van Zyl; Julian Redelinghuys, Willie Wepener, Jacques van Rooyen. Replacements – Robbie Coetzee, Bees Roux, Lambert Groenewald, Willie Britz, Ross Cronje, Lionel Cronje, Kobus de Kock.

Griquas: Gouws Prinsloo; Luzuko Vulindlu, Jean Stemmet, Jonathan Francke, Rocco Jansen; Du Randt Gerber, Jacques Coetzee; Leon Karemaker, Jaco Nepgen, RJ Liebenberg; Rory Arnold, Ligtoring Landman; Lourens Adriaanse, Matthew Dobson, Janro van Niekerk. Replacements – Simon Westraadt, Brummer Badenhorst, Dalton Davis, Patrick O’Brien, Enrico Acker, JP Nel, Logan Basson.

Free State Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller; Ryno Benjamin, Johann Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule; Elgar Watts, Sarel Pretorius; Philip van der Walt, Pieter Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo; Lood de Jager, Francois Uys; Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss, Coenie Oosthuizen. Replacements – AJ le Roux, Schalk van der Merwe, Teboho Mohoje, Freddy Ngoza, Piet van Zyl, Piet Lindeque, Willie du Plessis.

Blue Bulls: Jurgen Visser; Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson; Handre Pollard, Rudy Paige; Jacques Engelbrecht, Jacques du Plessis, Jono Ross; David Bulbring, Paul Willemse; Frik Kirsten, Bongi Mbonambi, Marcel van der Merwe. Replacements – Bandise Maku, Werner Kruger, Grant Hattingh, Jean Cook, Lohan Jacobs, Francois Venter, Clayton Blommetjies.

The Sharks: SP Marais; Odwa Ndungane, Tim Whitehead, Heimar Williams, Lwazi Mvovo; Fred Zeilinga, Charl McLeod; Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee; Pieter-Steph du Toit, Peet Marais; Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira. Replacements – Kyle Cooper, Wiehahn Herbst, Stephan Lewies, Jacques Botes, Cobus Reinach, Pat Lambie, Louis Ludik.

Western Province: Gio Aplon; Gerhard van den Heever, Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Demetri Catrakilis, Louis Schreuder; Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi, Deon Fourie; De Kock Steenkamp, Eben Etzebeth; Pat Cilliers, Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements – Frans Malherbe, Brok Harris, Michael Rhodes, Schalk Burger, Nic Groom, Kurt Coleman, Jean de Villiers.

Photo: Currie Cup champions Western Province parade through the streets of Cape Town on Tuesday, 30 October 2012. Joe Petersen is seen with the cup. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA

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