Currie Cup

Cup semis: 4 top tussles

2011-10-21 10:58
Fred Michalak and Johan Goosen (File)
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - The disappointment of the Rugby World Cup quarter-final departure just beginning to dim a bit in South African minds, a crackerjack last two weekends of Absa Currie Cup action with plenty of Springboks on view is hardly the worst way to wrap up the season.

Last year’s finalists, the Sharks and Western Province, have been particularly beefed by returning Boks ... but happily from a domestic depth point of view, our four choices for spicy individual duels here aren’t monopolised by big-names from the New Zealand-based tournament ...

Lions v Western Province, Johannesburg 17:00

No 15: Jaco Taute (Lions) v Gio Aplon (WP)

Province backline strategist Robbie Fleck has admitted that the strong, long-legged yet comprehensively skilful Lions fullback Taute – along with flyhalf Elton Jantjies – “cut us up” the last time these teams met in round-robin activity very recently at the same venue of Coca-Cola Park. He will clearly pose a major threat to last year’s runners-up again. But up against him this time is another undeniable crowd-pleaser in the form of Aplon, who didn’t see too much action at RWC 2011 and ought to be suitably fired-up to bring his snaking running attributes to the semis party back in blue and white hoops. That will especially apply if WP (as expected given their lack of great oomph in the engine room) opt for an especially fluid sort of game-plan on the fast-paced Highveld surface.

No 8: Josh Strauss (Lions) v Nick Koster (WP)

The unusually generous-whiskered Lions skipper Strauss may hail from the Cape but he is firmly established as a popular figure in the Big Smoke, where his turbo-charged “engine” and relish for 80 minutes of raw combat has been highly influential in the Lions’ mushrooming process of re-establishing the respect factor in the region’s rugby. Here he comes up against the former SA Schools wunderkind Koster, who was recently chosen as WP forward of the year at the union’s annual bash – such has been his progress in 2011. Koster has always had fine footballing ability, but in the absence of ton-of-bricks Duane Vermeulen for the duration of the Currie Cup, he has added admirable physicality and intensity in tighter play to his repertoire. So yes, this duel might be a bone-cruncher of some note ...   

Sharks v Cheetahs, Durban 14:30

No 10: Freddie Michalak (Sharks) v Johan Goosen (Cheetahs)

The seasoned Frenchman’s X-factor will be important if the Sharks find that brawn in the boiler room alone isn’t proving enough to repel the ever-tenacious Cheetahs. He was marvellous in a not dissimilar “knockout” situation to this one much earlier in the season, when the men from Durban pipped the Bulls 26-23 in their own backyard to beat them to a place in the Super Rugby playoffs phase. This time he goes head-to-head with one of the rookie sensations of the Currie Cup season, in the form of Goosen. The Cheetahs’ No 10 has been good enough to keep Sias Ebersohn mostly “benched” of late, pulls attacking strings in a manner which fits into the team’s ethos ... and of course is capable, Frans Steyn-like, of belting over a penalty from more than 65 metres.

No 2: Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks) v Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs)

No longer a frustrated component of the international-level selection predicament also involving a certain John Smit, the path is clear now for Du Plessis to pumpety-ump-pump his way to long-term sole ownership, fitness permitting, of the “undisputed best hooker” mantle in South African rugby. But that doesn’t mean he won’t encounter some spirited resistance in that quest: this semi sees the Bethlehem product rub noses with a blond Bloemfontein bomber in Strauss, who also leads the Cheetahs – and most often by industrious example. The latter is a bit of a forgotten Springbok, especially since Chiliboy Ralepelle’s involvement as third factor at hooker in the Bok squad, but gets a golden opportunity here to remind everyone that he is worthy of clambering back up a notch to the Test picture. Both No 2s at Mr Price Kings Park on Saturday will be sandwiched between good props, although the Sharks front row, collectively, obviously boasts a clear edge in big-match experience.

Read more on:    currie cup  |  johan goosen  |  durban

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