Burger and Smith to face off
Team spirit (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Schalk Burger and Juan Smith should be Springbok colleagues within a few weeks, but before then a colossal battle of the loose forwards is looming in Saturday’s Currie Cup semifinal at Newlands.
Both captains have a talismanic effect on their teams. Burger’s return last week paved the way for Western Province to win the first game in their last five clashes against big unions as they comfortably saw off the Sharks.
Smith’s presence in the Super 14 this year led to an average swing of 38 points in favour of the Cheetahs. The average score of games that Smith played this year was 30-24 to the Cheetahs, while in his absence it was 12-44 against them in four tour games.
Burger was the captain of a Stormers team that reached the Super 14 final for the first time in the history of the Cape franchise this year.
Smith is also a veteran of the Free State teams that won semifinals against WP at Newlands in 2004 and 2005, and undoubtedly the danger man.
“I think he had almost the same effect with the Springboks,” Burger said about Smith’s big impact at the Cheetahs.
“Juan is a fantastic player and someone I have played with a lot. He is outstanding on and off the field, and with the manner in which he leads Free State. With him there they are definitely a stronger side.”
The same applies to Burger and WP. Province have a thicker cheque book and more depth than Free State, so are less reliant on one outstanding individual for the x-factor.
The down side is that they can’t rely on the same continuity as the Cheetahs.
Burger’s return also re-unites the Cape loose-trio that comfortably stood its ground against the best in the Southern Hemisphere in the Super 14. He is playing with former Cheetah Duane Vermeulen and also outstanding Bok flank Francois Louw.
Ashley Johnson, who was a Springbok tourist last year, and Hendro Scholtz make up the Free State loose-trio with Smith.
“Smith is a Bok and Johnson has toured with the Springboks. But they are also up against a seasoned loose-trio in Schalk, Flo and Duane,” said WP coach Allister Coetzee.
“Juan is inspirational for Free State and this kind of game is very physical. I’m happy with the way in which our pack stood its ground last week. It was not just a matter of the pressure being absorbed and that they were able to hold their opponents, but of dominating. I expect nothing less this week.”
Coetzee said that WP had learned from their mistakes in the 24-29 defeat to Free State at Newlands earlier in the competition. The Cape side have also subsequently been strengthened by their Springboks.
“They put us under a lot of pressure by limiting our time and space on attack. We grew from that experience and I’m satisfied with how we have subsequently fared against teams that have put us under similar pressure,” he said.