Currie Cup

Currie Cup: 6 who may sizzle

2013-08-08 15:19
Cheslin Kolbe (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Who will jump out at us during the Currie Cup, the grand old competition that is inadvertently reinventing itself as a forum for bright young talent to fast-track itself to prominence?

As some of the country’s early- to mid-career standout first-class players are suddenly coaxed abroad by the power of foreign currencies, there is urgent emphasis on next-generation performers to fill the various voids.

The 2013 Currie Cup ought to showcase plenty of them ... here is my suggestion, one from each union, of relevant players to keep a particularly keen eye on (it includes one or two who are not outright rookies but may be set for big personal breakthrough seasons or are making up lost ground hungrily after injury):

Western Province (champions in 2012): Cheslin Kolbe

Don’t expect too much too soon of mazy-running wing/fullback Kolbe, WP coach Allister Coetzee has warned. A tempting alternative translation of that guarded statement might be: “Watch out world, we all know this guy’s dynamite!” At least initially, the Baby Bok 2013 star is being fielded at left wing, which seems a bit limiting when you consider the counter-attacking havoc he can cause in more space from No 15. Then again, if he is going to be groomed as the next Gio Aplon for wow factor at Newlands, why not pick up some handy lessons from the now relative veteran himself, from conveniently alongside him in the WP back three?   

Sharks (runners-up in 2012): Tim Whitehead

At 25, Whitehead isn’t exactly a greenhorn at Currie Cup level ... he first sampled it some four years ago in his tenure with WP, and while still a student at UCT. Now in the second year of his employment by the Sharks, the inside centre will be praying for an uninterrupted run in the side after missing the Super Rugby campaign with frustrating hand and arm injuries. (Keep in mind that the thus-far luckless character also sat out last year’s final against the Chiefs!) He is highly rated in Durban for his organisational skills at No 12 and ability to create opportunities for those around him, so will want to make up lost time in a hurry. 

Golden Lions (beaten semi-finalists in 2012): Stokkies Hanekom

Citrusdal-born and a product of a prolific schools’ rugby factory (Paarl Gym), Hanekom took a bit of time to adapt to the demands of senior rugby, but all the signs are now that he has finally “got it”. After a WP age-group career and so-so spells in George and Kimberley, the outside centre looks a welcome, settled presence in the re-emerging Lions’ plans. He was a slippery customer in the nail-biting promotion/relegation tussle with the Kings recently, and if he keeps growing into the No 13 jersey, could be just the sort of tonic the Jo’burg franchise needs for a suitably competitive comeback in Super Rugby early next year. First things first, though ... 

Blue Bulls (beaten semi-finalists in 2012):  Jacques du Plessis

Brawny blindside flank Du Plessis may just find that his Currie Cup debut, at Newlands on Saturday, isn’t quite as undemanding as his prior Vodacom Cup blooding for the Blue Bulls earlier this year – on that occasion his side won 110-0 against the hapless Limpopo Blue Bulls. This will be a more searching examination, especially considering that WP field established tough nut Rynhardt Elstadt in their own No 7 jersey. But the 19-year-old (his 20th birthday looms on Monday) has very promising physical gifts at 119kg and 2.01m and was a particularly visible figure for the Baby Boks at the 2013 IRB Junior World Championship. The discus ace did have some clumsy and wrong-option moments in the French-hosted tournament, so the Currie Cup ought to help add some gradual subtlety to his “direct” skills. Exciting utility forward, though ... that’s for sure.

Griquas (fifth in 2012): Howard Mnisi

This comes with a caution that we shouldn’t get too excited about Mnisi just yet ... it would be heaping an absurd amount of pressure on him. After all, he makes his Currie Cup debut in the tough environment of the Shark Tank on Friday evening – though knowledge of the Durban scene from his Sharks U21 days is a handy little ally. But he is an interesting case because he may just provide an answer to the question: how big is the gap, really, between Varsity Cup and Currie Cup? Mnisi was a prominent, constructive figure in midfield for the NMMU Madibaz in 2013, doing enough to earn the “Back That Rocks” mantle in the university competition. Can he transfer the magic to a loftier stage? He’s partnered for Griquas in midfield by that gnarly and sometimes hot-headed veteran of SA rugby, JP Nel, which could help settle any butterflies quickly.

Cheetahs (sixth in 2012): Lood de Jager

Isn’t it wonderful to reflect on a full-blooded tight-five contribution by someone like De Jager to the Cheetahs’ unprecedented charge to the Super Rugby finals series ... and then realise the beanpole is still only 20 years old? Fuelled by his strides one rung higher on the rugby ladder, the 2.05m giant (not the worst guy to succeed departing Andries Bekker for freak “cloud-touching” capability on the domestic scene) must be targeting a strong personal Currie Cup with great relish. Coach Naka Drotske starts the campaign with the spine of his Super Rugby side reasonably intact – and No 4 lock De Jager is already an integral element of that.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    currie cup  |  rugby

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