Currie Cup

Bench: WP, Lions both gamble

2014-10-23 14:04
Kurt Coleman (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Which of the respective coaches, Allister Coetzee and Johan Ackermann, has made the correct decisions over bench composition could play a significant role in determining the outcome of the 2014 Currie Cup final at Newlands on Saturday.

Neither of Western Province or the Golden Lions surprised with their starting XV revelations on Thursday, the former restoring fit-again Jaco Taute to the inside centre berth at the expense of Mikey van der Spuy – it is the only alteration across the two run-out sides from last week’s semi-finals.

But it is in examining the respective sets of substitutes that you get a fair old hint of the protagonists’ different philosophies, which should be evident again in the showpiece.

In short, a Province side keen to attack from deep and often off pilfered ball look to have the superior infusion options as far as backline play is concerned, whereas the Lions have targeted the engine room – and more specifically the scrums – for concerted assault by naming a full front row of replacements.

The Lions have opted for a forward-dominated, five-two split on the bench, whereas WP have stuck to the more orthodox four-three approach which gives them a better range of options to freshen the back division as the game wears on.

Coetzee’s risky, debatable step has been to limit his front-row subs to two – long-serving prop Brok Harris and hooker Neil Rautenbach – and in the process demoting hefty young loosehead Ollie Kebble from a match-day contribution after he featured late against the Blue Bulls last Saturday.

That could just come back to bite WP if the Lions repeat their scrummaging butchery of the Sharks last weekend, when the visitors were at least able to summon two props off the bench – Dale Chadwick and Lourens Adriaanse – to try to slow the retreat after Thomas du Toit and particularly Matt Stevens took significant strain.

Not only will first-choice Lions props Schalk van der Merwe and Ruan Dreyer try to impose themselves on first-up direct opponents Pat Cilliers and Alistair Vermaak respectively, but the visitors may choose to only tighten a grip – if they can get it – by bringing on the similarly forceful Julian Redelinghuys and 122kg Jacques van Rooyen for fresh impetus.

Their reserve hooker, Armand van der Merwe, also boasts more X-factor by reputation at this stage than WP’s rookie, replacement No 2 Neil Rautenbach -- the man Nick Mallett calls an “angry warthog” for his bustling runs and low centre of gravity has become something of a cult figure at Ellis Park this season.

Province do have a remarkable array of tall timber in their collective pack resources for the final, because the selection on the bench of lock Gerbrandt Grobler -- fit again and a bit beefed-up after long-term absence through injury -- means he joins all of Jean Kleyn, Manuel Carizza and loose forwards Rynhardt Elstadt and Michael Rhodes as players who are well familiar with the second row.

But if the Lions doubtless fancy administering a slow, unrelenting poison to Province in the engine room, behind the scrum they come up notably short – at least on paper – for alternatives if they are behind on the scoreboard and the back division suddenly needs spicing up.

Province will not be too awe-struck, frankly, by their meagre two backline subs: scrumhalf Mark Richards, who comes from a strong Sevens background and is also familiar with back-three deployment in the larger format, and Harold Vorster, the raw 21-year-old centre-cum-flyhalf.

Their own backline plans can be adjusted more decisively, perhaps, by calling off the bench Kurt Coleman, who attacks the gain line a little more naturally than Demetri Catrakilis and was some Capetonian-based experts’ plea for a start, scrumhalf Louis Schreuder or midfielder Van der Spuy who stood in tidily for Taute during his layoff.

In summary, maybe the benches confirm that the final is, to a good extent, about the Lions pack versus the Province backs?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    wp  |  currie cup  |  kurt coleman  |  rugby

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