Bulls suddenly favourites?
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town -
The Blue Bulls may have ended fourth and will not see any knockout
action at their beloved Loftus, yet they are arguably narrow favourites
as the Absa Currie Cup semi-final line-up was determined on Saturday.
gripping last three weeks is in the offing - there is a “rest” weekend
between the semis and the October 30 showpiece - with the same teams as
last season having reached the last four.
Again the Sharks and
Western Province have finished first and second respectively for the
right to lucrative home ties, although third and fourth place change in
2010 as the Cheetahs have leapfrogged the Bulls this time.
sets up a particularly appetising, juggernaut encounter between the
Durban-based side and defending champions the Bulls (14:30 on
Saturday), with Province hosting the Cheetahs at Newlands (17:00).
it is tempting to suggest that WP may have the “easier” task before
their raucous home faithful, they will be mindful of the fact that it
was only a few weeks ago, in late August, that they slipped on a banana
peel by crashing 29-24 to those very foes in the shadow of Table
And the Cheetahs deserve only highest praise for the
way they continually qualify for the knockout phase despite having
their talent pool plundered just as often by richer, big-city unions.
bookies ought to install them as least likely winners – and this kind
of thing often suits Juan Smith and company just fine – with a lot of
head-scratching around which of the other three offer best credentials
for the trophy now.
My crystal ball begins to suggest that the
Bulls, despite the admittedly difficult route for them, are
sprightliest candidates considering their modern “been there, done
that” track record in major competitions.
While it is true that
they flirted with non-qualification at various stages of this year’s
Currie Cup round-robin, being deprived of more senior Springboks than
other teams was a very key consideration.
The ease with which
their heavyweights like Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Danie
Rossouw reintegrated into the system against Griquas in Kimberley – a
potentially tricky game which they won more comfortably than the
scoreline indicates on Saturday – stands them in good stead for the
The current Bulls crop are not especially
afraid of leaving their Pretoria fortress to secure important
victories, and several of their ranks will still harbour fond memories
of that dramatic Super 14 title pinch at Absa Stadium in 2007.
in their favour, perhaps, is the Sharks losing some momentum in
Saturday’s rather clear-cut 33-21 reverse to a suitably fired-up WP
It was three tries all but that was a mightily deceptive
statistic: Province genuinely “fronted up” here after successive Durban
defeats to the Sharks in the Super 14 and Currie Cup this year, when
they were notably out-muscled each time, and seldom looked like playing
This time the boot was on the other foot as that
amazing specimen Schalk Burger returned to gee up the entire WP eight
after his compulsory conditioning stint with various other Boks.
his own admission, the Province captain way prefers the big match to
the bench press, and he looked as if he had never been away, also
coaxing a hugely imposing all-round performance out of loose forward
colleague Duane Vermeulen – surely a must for the heavy pitches of
Europe in national colours in a few weeks’ time?
Coetzee and the rest of the WP brains trust deserve a bouquet, too, for
making some of their hotly-debated selections work: Ricky Januarie will
never be the perfect scrumhalf but he got in people’s faces for a
productive hour before Dewaldt Duvenage offered fresh legs, while Jean
de Villiers delivered a strong performance at right wing, although he
was cleverly worked into more familiar midfield territory at times as
All that said, this was always going to be a difficult day
for the Sharks, already assured of top spot and thus unlikely to
achieve maximum motivational levels no matter how hard they may have
They have not ended top of the table without valid
reason, and wunderkind Patrick Lambie, who missed a tackle on De
Villiers in the lead-up to a late try and generally could not assert
himself greatly on play, was probably due a relative off-day.
sight of Bismarck du Plessis limping off towards the end would not have
been a welcome sight for coach John Plumtree; the combative hooker will
be needed in the quest to halt the running of the Bulls next week.
scenario for WP now, of course, is to topple the Cheetahs and bank on a
Bulls triumph in Durban to set up a Newlands final - the first since
Yet those wily, uncompromising Bulls are only two hurdles from retention of the Currie Cup.
I suspect they will take some stopping, as usual …