Cape Town – If the Golden Lions fail to advance to a second
Currie Cup trophy success in three years, it is unlikely to be for failure of
effort on the part of their tireless flank and captain Derick Minnie.
Arguably the least favoured of all four remaining sides in
the 2013 competition to go all the way to glory on October 26, the Lions
quietly revel in their status as the little ‘uns who so often punch above their
weight, given the various debilitating upheaval in their union in recent years.
On their side is the fact that they weren’t too confidently
expected to lift the cup in 2011, either: certainly not against final opponents
the Sharks for whom non-Springboks in their starting ranks were very much
exceptions rather than norms on the day.
Instead it is history now that in the most one-sided final
since 1980 (when iconic skipper Morne du Plessis was an eleventh-hour
withdrawal for Western Province and they were murdered 39-9 by the Bulls at
Loftus) the bushy-tailed Lions romped to Ellis Park glory 42-16.
The situation for Saturday’s Newlands semi (14:30) won’t be
too different, with favourites Province boasting considerably more gnarly internationals
in their match-day 22 than the Lions will.
So it must help the highvelders to know they have at least a
couple of “been there, done that” Currie Cup-winning men in their own midst,
with Minnie a standout figure in that regard.
Alberton-born, he is a Lions man to the core, having
enlisted with their academy as a teenager in 2004 and been witness to so much
tumult in the franchise since then.
Minnie, 26, is also the new heartbeat of the team,
considering that the once instantly-recognisable Josh Strauss – who must have saved
so much money in bypassing the razor-blade shelves at the supermarket – joined
a great exodus of players from the Jo’burg fold for a new career at faraway
Minnie, Strauss and Michael Rhodes made up the Lions loose
trio that memorable day in October 2011, with the first-named player the lone
survivor (Rhodes ironically will be on the WP bench on Saturday).
Now Minnie leads a different alliance into combat on this
occasion, with Jaco Kriel and Warren Whiteley his new companions in the bid to
fell more fancied foes.
Generally blessed with an unusual ability to stay
injury-free, the captain was a fulsome element of the Lions’ typically tenacious
performance in the round-robin meeting at Newlands earlier this month.
Don’t be too deceived by the fact that this was a game where
Province sneaked a rare four-try bonus point at the death in prevailing 36-23 –
the Lions were right in the contest until late on and Minnie, one of those
flankers who gives his all both as a pilferer and carrier, dotted two tries in
his role as a key navigator at rolling mauls.
His style is to play right on the edge -- in line with the
Lions’ broadly buccaneering, high-risk approach to their rugby -- and there
were some tempering thoughts on his game from opinionated pundit and former Bok
coach Nick Mallett on a SuperSport chat show on Thursday.
“Minnie’s accuracy at the breakdown is not what it should be
as captain ... he is a very penalizable player.”
It is true that the dynamo explores the boundaries of
legality, and Marius Jonker is the official charged with deciding on Saturday
whether Minnie is being just plain admissibly destructive in favour of his
cause, or crossing the fence to unreasonably “obstructive”.
But Mallett did add an indirectly admiring, tempering view:
“I don’t want to take anything away from his enthusiasm ...”
If the Lions’ 2013 Currie Cup quest does get thwarted at
Newlands, it will not be without Derick Minnie having done his utmost to be an
inspiration through personal industry to his young and appealingly daredevil
And perhaps get away with what he can.
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