WP worthy winners
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
There’s no doubt Western Province are absolutely deserved champions. They had to win the Currie Cup the hard way. They travelled away from home in both playoff games and passed both tests with aplomb.
To play the Sharks in the final in Durban and come away with an outstanding win speaks volumes for the character in the current WP side. I thought Demetri Catrakilis showed tremendous temperament in the final, as he did the entire campaign. His halfback partner, Nic Groom also had an impressive season.
In the end, Catrakilis’s two drop goals made the difference. When he landed the first drop the whole momentum of the game shifted.
Catrakilis’s signing is confirmed and he’s contracted to the Southern Kings for two years. He is coming to PE next week to sort out his accommodation. He will be a great asset to the side, and it’s important that a young player of his talent is in the starting XV of a Super Rugby franchise.
Juan de Jongh’s try was also a pivotal moment in the match. He is a magnificent player and for some time, I have been an advocate of playing him in the Springbok backline.
Deon Fourie has been another of Province’s heroes this season. Fourie deserves a lot of credit. He led the side superbly this season and played a major role in their success. He really is a top rugby player who offers great versatility.
Another man who deserves a special mention is Eben Etzebeth. He was absolutely outstanding this season. In a very short space of time, I think he will be the best lock in world rugby. He’s both an athletic lock and an enforcer. He is big, strong and has supreme ball skills. The experience of playing the June Tests and the Rugby Championship will have hastened his development enormously.
Although the Sharks played in two finals this year and were runners-up on both occasions, I don’t buy into the chokers tag people often tend to label sides with. Owing to travel and fatigue, the Super Rugby final away to the Chiefs was a bridge too far and on the weekend they were beaten by the more determined side.
I think it’s fantastic for the Cape side to have broken their 11-year trophy drought. They are one of the top unions in South Africa.
The WP side that won the Currie Cup in 2001 was a lot more experienced than the current Currie Cup champions. That team started developing under Harry Viljoen in 1997 when I was assistant coach and reached its peak in 2001 under the captaincy of Corne Krige. The current side is a much younger team, still in the early stages of its development.
The development aspect of the Currie Cup is important. With the Springboks absent for the majority of the competition, there is a certain element lost, but conversely you have young players like Catrakilis, Groom and Steven Kitshoff coming to the fore, which I feel is important.
It’s key to have a good blend of youth and experience. A young player always thinks he’s bullet-proof, whereas an older guy may be scarred by past experiences.
Turning to our season, in the first promotion-relegation match against the Cheetahs we didn’t rise to the challenge. As well as they played, so poorly did we play, which was really disappointing. Although we used a rotation system - having played 16 consecutive First Division matches - a week’s bye between the final and the first promotion-relegation clash would probably have served us better.
I would really like to see the Kings in the Currie Cup’s Premier Division. I think it will enhance the development of our players, particularly those coming through our academy.
Overall, the Premier Division of the Currie Cup was a good, strong competition and built up to a fitting climax, with excitement right to the end.
Casting an eye to the Springbok squad which Heyneke Meyer has selected for the impending end-of-year tour, I don’t feel there are any surprises. I think he has done the wise thing by bringing in the likes of Schalk Brits and Gurthro Steenkamp, who are in good form and familiar with northern hemisphere conditions.
The weather in the UK is starting to turn now, so he has bolstered his pack accordingly. A heavy pack and backline generals like Ruan Pienaar and Morne Steyn with big boots are invaluable in the wet. It’s key that your playing personnel is suited to the conditions and can dictate play accordingly.
Finally, the selection of Raymond Rhule is exciting. He is a terrific young player with electric pace and real explosiveness. Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.
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