Currie Cup

CC final: Key 'converts' duel

2011-10-28 10:09
Wikus van Heerden and Jean Deysel (File)
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – The Absa Currie Cup final boasts many eye-catching individual duels ... immediately obvious ones being Messrs Taute v Lambie at fullback, Jantjies v Michalak at flyhalf and a good old front-row arm wrestle between Springbok squad-mates CJ van der Linde and Jannie du Plessis.

But who performs the “Bakkies Botha” job best could also have a crucial bearing in the outcome of Saturday’s showpiece in Johannesburg (17:30).

That is even more pertinent because hosts the Golden Lions, in the form of Wikus van Heerden, and defending champions the Sharks, with Jean Deysel the personality in question, are fielding relative lock novices in the No 4 jersey – particularly so in the latter’s case.

The position is often associated, especially in South Africa where physicality is such an integral part of the rugby culture, with “enforcement” ... a no-nonsense customer who will grapple and growl at the set-piece and in the tight-loose, smash into rucks and provide strong leg-drive in mauls.

His No 5 partner, meanwhile, tends to be more the spring-heeled lineout specialist and “athlete” about the park, perhaps allowed a little more liberty to sneak out onto the wing and get a cheeky head of steam up or throw a dummy from time to time.

Until their recent separation after years as a partnership for the Bulls and South Africa, Botha and Victor Matfield were considered a dream alliance in that regard, without peer in world rugby.

At least the two lineout specialists on Saturday – Franco van der Merwe of the Lions and Ross Skeate in the black and white jersey, are well familiar with general second-row principles.

Notably less seasoned in lock play, however, are No 4s Van Heerden and Deysel, both of whom have made their most familiar first-class and occasionally international yards as blindside flanks.

In the case of the former, his has been one of those near-natural progressions with age: it is not uncommon for No 7 flanks to switch to the tight five as they lose some of their mobility and maybe even bulk up a bit as the years go by.

It is also fitting in some respects that he has made the swap – his father Moaner was an uncompromising, cowboys-don’t-cry sort of customer in the Northern Transvaal and Springbok second row of the 1970s and early 1980s. (The lineout king alongside him then was almost always the iconically bearded Louis Moolman.)

Van Heerden junior, aged 32, looks reasonably settled these days at No 4 for a Lions franchise not exactly brimful of quality lock specialists, and ought to be fancied to shade his battle with Deysel.

That is because the Sharks player, some six years his junior, has only converted particularly recently to service far more at the heart of the engine room.

A Springbok-capped blindsider with a reputation primarily as a fearless ball-carrier, Deysel having a brave stab at lock under John Plumtree’s tutelage probably makes some sense – there is as pretty well-rooted school of thought that he is a bit one-dimensional as a loose forward with some shortcomings in the “skills” and peripheral vision area.

It may be an uphill battle for him to earn significantly more Bok appearances in future, as the SA loose forward cupboard is well stocked, as usual, with suitable emerging candidates and someone like Juan Smith in comeback mode from long-term injury, for good measure, in 2012.

So Deysel’s experimentation in the second row may prove to be in his interests, particularly as the national side begins to contemplate a future without such gnarly old characters as Botha and Danie Rossouw.

Nevertheless, it is a tall order for him to succeed ... and “tall” is the crux of it, really, as the very lack of a few centimetres in height could be found to be a drawback.

Deysel has the necessary bulk factor (if he does specialise at lock he may consciously aim to add some kilograms to his 110kg frame) and aggression levels, but at 1.91m he may struggle to truly impose himself at the front of the lineout.

In that regard, a fairly similar-styled, promising player like the Stormers’ Rynhardt Elstadt, who also made the switch from flank a year or so back, has an advantage with his 1.98m frame, rather closer to the kind of height sought in a conventional lock forward. 

But Deysel is also not the sort of character to let a side down or be too spooked by any form of disadvantage in physical terms, and if he manages to get the better of the Van Heerden (1.94m, incidentally) on Saturday it will be viewed as an important step in his possibly altered development path ...

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