Back the boys from the Cape
The Currie Cup keeps getting better; for connoisseurs and fanatics alike.
On Saturday the race to the final took another unexpected twist when the Lions beat the Sharks in the dying seconds of their clash at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg.
What a turnaround for the battering rams of Super Rugby - if they beat the Cheetahs on Saturday they will be in the playoffs! Who would have predicted that after their latest Super Rugby implosion in 2010?
However, the 'big one' of the coming weekend is yet again the classic North v South clash between the Blue Bulls and Western Province at Loftus Versfeld.
They played each other in final round of this year's Super 14 and in the final two weeks later when the Bulls triumphed at FNB Stadium. A fortnight earlier WP easily overcame a depleted Bulls side at Newlands.
WP fans must already be having visions of another disappointing end to another promising Currie Cup campaign. Remember last year when no-one gave the Blue Bulls a chance against WP at Newlands? Are the Blue Bulls out to spoil the WP party yet again?
Notwithstanding their recent domination over WP, I have to concede that even though the Blue Bulls will be at their beloved fortress Loftus, in my opinion, WP are odds-on favourites to take this one. What with at least six of the Blue Bulls’ first choice forwards not available for the match and a midfield full of gaping holes, things are indeed looking ominous for the sky blues.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter is missing shots at goal with regularity and with Willem de Waal, a meticulous placekicker in opposition, it can only have dire consequences for the Currie Cup champions.
Add to that the tendency of Jaco Pretorius to slip tackles in the midfield and Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh will pose a massive challenge for the Bulls’ midfield on Saturday.
The WP backs are in slick form and it is definitely one area where coach Allister Coetzee will look to breach the Blue Bulls’ defence. He will look to his Springbok centre paring to get Gio Aplon and new wing sensation, JJ Engelbrecht into space.
They like to play at a fast pace and have the loose forwards (Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen) to provide quick second phase ball to their dangerous backs.
The Blue Bulls definitely face their sternest test of the year and will have to dig really deep to contain WP. In fact, they will have to play way above their recent performance curve if they hope to win on Saturday.
The Bulls will look towards Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Gary Botha (if he recovers in time), Francois Hougaard, Zane Kirchner and Gerhard van den Heever to be at the top of their games for this match, then, maybe, just maybe, with a bit of luck, they will be able to pull this one off!
In Bloemfontein the Cheetahs will be too good for the resurgent Lions. John Mitchell has done miracles with his new Lions side, but the trip to Vodacom Park in Bloemfontein will be a bridge too far for them. They have however succeeded in restoring the honour in the Lions jersey and have attracted many of their erstwhile fans back to Coca-Cola Park – unthinkable a few months ago. This in itself is a major achievement. It is just a bit disconcerting that the architects behind the turnaround had to be imported from New Zealand.
Finally, the major objective for WP and the Sharks will be to finish top of the table and that will be the one factor that will be in the back of WP’s mind on Saturday. Hosting both a semi-final and final means lots and lots of surplus cash for the host union - cash that enables the union to acquire the best players, cutting edge technology and the latest support infrastructure essential for continued success in the never ending battle for supremacy.
Perhaps it is the injection WP rugby needs to return to the top of the South African rugby hierarchy, a position they relinquished nearly 10 years ago when they last won the Currie Cup in 2001.
Gary Boshoff is a former SARU player and current Afrikaans rugby commentator on SuperSport.
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