Currie Cup

Boks to trigger repeat final?

2011-10-15 22:00
Schalk Burger (Gallo)
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Boosted by significant batches of returning Springboks, the Sharks and Western Province could yet repeat their 2010 presence in this year’s Absa Currie Cup final.

The two coastal franchises have been easily the main beneficiaries of welcome strengthening of their respective arsenals after South Africa’s quarter-final exit from the World Cup – there was evidence of that in abundance during the last series of round-robin fixtures this weekend.

Instead of coming home jaded and depressed after the controversial loss to Australia in Wellington a few days ago, players like Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh and Schalk Burger showed plenty of gusto as Province secured fourth spot on the table in beating the Pumas 43-18 at Newlands, whilst the “grunt” of such customers as Willem Alberts and Bismarck du Plessis (both off the bench in the second half) was instrumental in the Sharks easily achieving their objective of a home semi-final against the Cheetahs.

The champions thrashed the table-topping Lions, who started with a weakened XV knowing that their own home semi was already assured, with the required bonus point to pip the Free Staters to second place and force Naka Drotske’s charges to make travel plans for next Saturday.

Meanwhile the Lions, presumably not too miffed about playing clear second fiddle in Durban given that there was so little at stake for them, will entertain Province -- as heavily anticipated despite the Bulls’ gutsy attempt to stay in the last-four picture -- at Ellis Park.

Considering that they thumped WP 42-25 at the venue only a week ago, the Highveld side will certainly still feel that they have their beating once again.

But it is also obvious that the visitors will enter the knockout phase with a significantly less wet-behind-the-ears team than the one they fielded in the heavy reverse.

That will apply especially to the backline, of course -- although Burger’s frenzied work-rate and physical relish will make a difference up front, the WP tight five as presently constituted is no great shakes at all with key surnames like Bekker and Elstadt absentees from the second row and two loosehead props, Steven Kitshoff and Wicus Blaauw, also out for the remainder of the season.

They have too few reliable lineout forwards available and the scrum was in disconcerting reverse at times against the meaty Pumas pack in a scrappy encounter marked by flashes of brilliance – several of them from the in-form Bok midfielder De Villiers, who led Province on the day.

The Sharks, meanwhile, appear to be hitting some fresh momentum at a good time: watered-down Lions side or not, going past the 50-point mark was a strong signal of semis intent.

Their opponents next week, the Cheetahs, are not finding tries hard to come by – they got six in the 49-39 derby win against Griquas on Saturday -- but a feeling persists that their defence can be a little porous and the battlers from Kimberley cashed in at times.

Home advantage could be a vital factor for the Sharks: in “league” play this season each side won their respective home fixture – the Cheetahs prevailed 53-32 in Bloemfontein on September 17, whilst the Sharks triumphed at Mr Price Kings Park 43-34 on July 30.

In last year’s final, the Sharks comfortably saw off Province 30-10 in Durban.

Semi-final line-up on Saturday, unless any scheduling changes are made:

14:30: Sharks v Cheetahs, Durban; 17:00: Lions v Western Province, Johannesburg.

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