Currie Cup

Bok midfield future on show

2012-10-24 11:21
Paul Jordaan (Gallo)
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Check out a gallery of the Sharks as they gear up for the Currie Cup final against Western Province.

Cape Town – South Africans ought to get a healthy glimpse of the national team’s future at centre when the Currie Cup final is played at Mr Price Kings Park on Saturday (17:00).

Although the respective teams had not been announced at the time of writing, there seemed no reason not to surmise that both the Sharks and Western Province would field predominantly young and exciting midfield combinations.

The favourites and home outfit will almost certainly stick to their successful semi-final alliance of Tim Whitehead at inside centre and Paul Jordaan in the outer channel, and ditto Western Province from their late-show triumph at Coca-Cola Park, with Marcel Brache and Juan de Jongh the respective occupants of the slots.

Of the quartet, only De Jongh already boasts full international experience, the Paarl-born 24-year-old having shown his mettle at the top level intermittently over the course of the last two years, although he has controversially been a fringe element, for the most part, to new coach Heyneke Meyer’s plans during 2012.

His anticipated direct opponent, Jordaan, is making solid strides toward higher recognition, and has time in his side as the Grey College product is only 20 and offers credentials both as a centre and wing, as evidenced by his important contribution to the Baby Boks’ triumph in this year’s IRB Junior World Championship.

A little earlier in the Boks’ up-and-down Test season, Jordaan’s name was already on some experts’ lips as a possible fast-track addition to the squad mix, although Meyer has thus far resisted summoning him – you would think at the very least that he has now leapfrogged someone like the Blue Bulls’ similarly versatile but not wholly convincing JJ Engelbrecht in the pecking order.

Brache, meanwhile, will enter the final as probably the oldest centre on view, at 25, and could perhaps be branded a slightly “later developer” than the others in the likely midfield mix on Saturday, as he first cut his teeth for a couple of productive seasons with UCT in the Varsity Cup.

But that is primarily because the Newlands-based franchise also sport on their long-term books one of the most seasoned customers in centre terms in world rugby: current Bok captain Jean de Villiers.

The 31-year-old has been a Test player for almost 10 years, but also has a regrettable injury jinx of sorts when it comes to major tournaments (especially World Cups in his case) or red-letter matches.

De Villiers is unable to lead the troops into battle against the Sharks – remember that in his long tenure with the Stormers/WP both of the two biggest trophies outside of Test level still elude him -- as he is racing against time to overcome a hamstring strain, in order to be available for the Springbok end-of-year tour squad.

But it is fitting in many ways that Brache gets his maiden showpiece opportunity, as he has mostly served the No 12 jersey with aplomb in this season’s Currie Cup.

The lean customer’s ability to offload deftly in the tackle – a delightful one to set up a try against Griquas in Kimberley comes to mind -- has earned him some inevitable comparisons with Sonny Bill Williams, although there are still a few inconsistencies to his play as well.

He sometimes seems to be thinking one step ahead even before accepting a pass, and has been guilty of some frustrating handling errors at times as a result, though there can be no doubting his attacking acumen and relish.

Directly up against him in Durban will be Tim Whitehead, ironically someone he would have rubbed shoulders with until last season in the Province/Stormers camp.

Whitehead, 24, has only enhanced his reputation as an astute midfield “thinker” and option-taker since his shift up the coast – there is a bit of a Conrad Smith comparison, perhaps, in the way he endeavours to be enterprising and creative and sums up moods and situations.

With all four probable centres for the final falling into the 25-and-under age category, common sense suggests that at least two of them are going to offer up forceful Bok credentials – perhaps sooner than some of them even imagine, when you consider that the Sharks’ re-recruited Bok utility back Frans Steyn is also on the crocked list until the start of the 2013 season.

There have sometimes been pulsating elements to both provincial teams’ midfield play this season, a welcome development for those lamenting collective backline sterility at national level, and it would be a shame if the possibility of inclement weather for Saturday significantly reduces the likelihood of further evidence of that ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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