BIG CAT FINAL
Dogged battle of the boot likely to determine Currie Cup winner on Saturday
In a final, where every point is indispensable, the flyhalf who holds their nerves the best — between the Pumas’ Tinus de Beer and Cheetahs’ Ruan Pienaar — will expectedly lift the trophy.
The Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein is expected to be drenched in white and orange for Saturday’s Currie Cup final between the Pumas and the Cheetahs.
And while the supporters will be cheering for the home Free State side, the roaring crowd will no-doubt spur on the perennial away-from-home winning Pumas.
On the field, a close contest between the two big cats is expected with the winner possibly decided by the two or three-point swing of a successful or unsuccessful kick off the tee.
Both finalists have exceptional flyhalves, who stand above the rest of the competition in terms of point scoring. Pumas pivot Tinus de Beer and Cheetahs stalwart Ruan Pienaar have both scored 114 points in this year’s Currie Cup — they are two of only three players to have scored over 100 points.
Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie recently announced that the 39-year-old scrumhalf-cum-flyhalf has extended his stay in Bloemfontein for another year.
“He will play the same role that he has played for us this year. He is still enjoying his rugby and he is a very competitive person so he will want to finish his career on a high,” Fourie said.
“Ruan won’t just play for money and will give his weight to the Cheetahs and give his input. He is our most experienced player and is always part of the conversation of what to do and how to do things.
“He will support Victor (Sekekete, the Cheetahs captain), he will be the leader of the backs and on the field he can play nine or 10 and will be the general on the pitch as well. So, nothing different from the past season.”
Pienaar was integral in the Cheetahs’ 39-10 bashing of the Bulls in the Currie Cup semi-final last week. The general scored 22 of his side’s points, which included a staggering six penalty goals.
The Pumas’ defence has been impressive this Currie Cup campaign — it takes something truly special to break their initial line of defence.
On the other hand, the side from Mbombela aren’t afraid of conceding the odd penalty to ensure their defensive line remains impenetrable — something Pienaar will be keen to capitalise on with his razor-sharp boot.
While play goes directly through the Cheetahs’ No 10 — also played by Siya Masuku and Reinhardt Fortuin sporadically this season — the Pumas, conversely, utilise two different first receivers.
Fullback Devon Williams often slots into the flyhalf role to either prompt an attack with his fleet feet or launch the ball off his booming left boot.
Williams is often used by the Pumas to clear the ball when under pressure deep in their own half while De Beer offers the cheeky dinks or attacking grubber kicks in the opposition’s half. For context, Williams (22) kicked double as many times as De Beer (11) did from general play last week.
Off the kicking tee, the reliable De Beer has only missed one kick at goal in the last two weeks. He has the second most conversions (29) and penalty goals (16) in this season’s competition, with only Pienaar (32) above him in successful try conversions.
“If things work out like we’ve planned and our discipline is 100%, and Tinus de Beer’s kicking boot is on song, then we can repeat what happened in 2022,” said Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse, referring to his team clinching their first-ever Currie Cup title last year.
In a final, particularly a Currie Cup one, the battle at scrum time is always integral.
Stonehouse admitted his team were off the boil when his eight forwards packed down last week against the Sharks, as they lost one of the two scrums on their own feed.
The Cheetahs, meanwhile, were dealt a blow as loosehead prop Schalk Ferreira has been ruled out of Saturday’s clash after sustaining a concussion against the Bulls in their semi-final.
Ferreira has been replaced by Nqobisizwe Mxoli in the starting lineup. The rest of the Cheetahs side is unchanged from last week.
The Pumas were perfect on the lineout front in the semi-final, winning all 14 of their throw-ins. The Lowvelders are further boosted on that front with their skipper, Shane Kirkwood overcoming a leg injury suffered at the death against the Sharks as he takes his place as the team’s foremost lineout option.
The Pumas will run out with the same 23 as they did in the semi-finals.
The match kicks off at 4pm on Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein. DM
15 Tapiwa Mafura, 14 Daniel Kasende, 13 David Brits, 12 Reinhardt Fortuin, 11 Cohen Jasper, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Rewan Kruger, 8 Friedle Olivier, 7 Siba Qoma, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Victor Sekekete (captain), 4 Rynier Bernardo, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Nqobisizwe ‘Mox’ Mxoli. Reserves: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Jeandre Rudolph, 20 George Cronje, 21 Daniel Maartens, 22 Evardi Boshoff, 23 Robert Ebersohn
15 Devon Williams, 14 Andrew Kota, 13 Diego Appollis, 12 Ali Mgijima, 11 Etienne Taljaard, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Chriswill September, 8 Kwanda Dimaza, 7 Francois Kleinhands, 6 Andre Fouche, 5 Shane Kirkwood (captain), 4 Deon Slabbert, 3 Simon Raw, 2 PJ Jacobs, 1 Corne Fourie. Reserves: 16 Darnell Osuagwu, 17 Etienne Janeke, 18 Dewald Maritz, 19 Malembe Mpofu, 20 Ruwald van der Merwe, 21 Giovan Snyman, 22 Gene Willemse, 23 Wian van Niekerk