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
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
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
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?
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