Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Yes, it does seem cruel that
some of the honest journeymen or fast-tracked rookies who have battled through
the round-robin phase of this year’s Absa Currie Cup are suddenly deemed
surplus to requirements for the all-important knockout phase.
I refer, of course, to the mass infusion –
though the process had already begun in some earnest last weekend -- of
returning World Cup Springboks to provincial teams, with defending champions
the Sharks and last year’s runners-up Western Province the most handsome
profiteers ahead of “semis” weekend.
Suddenly the Durban meeting between the
Sharks and Cheetahs looks rather more loaded in favour of a home win, with the
Free Staters pretty much having to go “status quo” with their selection yet the
hosts gleefully beefing their ranks with the likes of Messrs Willem Alberts, JP
Pietersen, Tendai Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie.
In Johannesburg, it is a little more
dangerous, I think, to suggest that Province will turn the tables for a
Coca-Cola Park pasting only a fortnight back, simply because Schalk Burger,
Jean de Villiers and company will give them greater mongrel and nous ... but a
much tighter contest is a realistic scenario, all the same.
It is tough on some of the players who did
some hard yards for their provinces just to get them to the semi-finals, only
for their gesture of “thanks” to be relegation to the bench or even right out
of the match-day 22.
Still, you have to ask these sort of honest
questions: who would you rather pay top dollar (and in this recessionary
climate, too) to see at the business end of the Currie Cup ... Dale Chadwick in
the Sharks No 1 jersey or that eternal crowd favourite and rampaging
ball-carrier the “Beast”?
And if you are WP fan, surely De Villiers
at inside centre – a man who fought more deftly than most to overcome the Wallabies
in that controversial RWC quarter-final – gives you a greater sense of comfort
and pleasure than, say, the still-in-training Marcel Brache?
Various youngsters have made useful,
perhaps even more advanced strides in first-class rugby than they may have
imagined a few months ago; the kind that will stand them in good stead for
further blossoming next season.
But after a season predictably marked by
reduced gates at most Currie Cup venues because of the absence of well over two
dozen of the country’s best players to international requirements in a World
Cup year, any opportunity to inject them at the finish was always going to be
grabbed with eager hands.
The sponsors clearly relish their presence,
ditto the television honchos. And expect the public to show their approval by
turning out in more swollen numbers now for the last three matches of the
Just knowing that Cape cult figure Schalk
Burger was likely to feature in the second half off the bench against the Pumas
last weekend must have gone a long way to explaining why some 15 000
people reportedly went through the turnstiles for that less-than-sexy fixture,
instead of a likelier four-figure gate, I imagine, had big Bok names been
absent once more.
Indeed, in the shortish time Burger was
allowed off the leash like a grateful dog in a park, he only offered up a broad
reminder of how passionately the frontline Springboks always wish to tear into
provincial combat – remember that the careful “management” process in 2011
hardly means we are going to see tired old troopers simply go through the
motions at season’s end.
A sports-minded colleague from News24
reminded me this week, too, that there is a precedent from as far back as 30
years ago for returning Boks crashing the Currie Cup final party, as it were.
In 1981, the Boks returned from their
eventful, old-style (read: long!) tour of New Zealand, and then a stopover in
the United States, to play an influential role in the outcome of the Cup that
Northern Transvaal ruffled feathers – and
those were overwhelmingly amateur days when TV ratings and the like weren’t
quite so obsessively monitored – by suddenly, unapologetically fielding a
glittering array of Boks in the Loftus final against Free State, greatly tilting
the balance before the teams even took to the pitch after a domestic season
like this one, stripped of the country’s most stellar names.
Into the starting fray stormed players like
Naas Botha, Johan Heunis, Burger Geldenhuys, Louis Moolman and Ockie
Oosthuizen, with the hapless visitors comfortably elbowed out 23-6 after a
spirited enough first 30 minutes or so.
There was a morality-based hullabaloo ahead
of that final, yet it has dimmed to near-inconsequential status with the
passage of time.
All that matters is the reflection in the
history books that the Blue Bulls made it a fifth year on the trot of Currie
Cup successes, albeit that 1979 was the kiss-your-sister share of the spoils
with Morne du Plessis’s WP side.
Who wins in 2011 is all that will be
remembered, ultimately, once again ...