Scarra, Bissie sweat over final
Bismarck du Plessis (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Will my yellow card be deemed sufficient punishment?
That is a question both Bismarck du Plessis of the Sharks and his Western Province counterpart at hooker, Scarra Ntubeni, may well be asking themselves just a little nervously in the immediate wake of their teams’ respective triumphs over the Cheetahs and Lions in the Currie Cup semi-finals on Saturday.
The coastal powerhouses line up against each other for the second time in as many years in the domestic showpiece next weekend - only this time the venue switches from Kings Park to Newlands as WP attempt to retain the crown.
It will be their first home advantage in a final since 2001, when these were the same opponents and Province won 29-24.
There have been six finals in total between the two, with WP claiming four of them and not yet having fallen victim at their stronghold in the shadow of Table Mountain - they first got the ball rolling in 1984, with a 19-9 triumph over the then B-Section “Banana Boys” smack in the middle of their golden era between 1982 and 1986 when they claimed a record five titles on the trot.
This year’s knockout phase has gone entirely and fittingly according to the form book, with the top-placed and next best teams now contesting Saturday’s grand climax.
Not quite so straightforward yet is whether the current first-choice men in the important No 2 jerseys for the two franchises will be cleared for action, after indiscretions by both Du Plessis and Ntubeni in the final quarter of each semi that earned them stints in the “bin”.
Springbok stalwart Du Plessis - no stranger to disciplinary attention, even if not always justifiably so - was spotted seemingly stamping on a Cheetahs opponent, whilst the hitherto typically livewire Ntubeni was guilty of a spear tackle, albeit one that may well be deemed to have been more a case of bad timing than outright malice.
It remains to be seen whether citing procedures will be pursued in either case: neither side will want to have to shuffle their selection cards in this particular position for the final.
The complicating factor for the Sharks is that the powerhouse Du Plessis was already the only one of their much-trumpeted, all-Springbok front row to start the semi-final against the Cheetahs, played before a disappointing crowd in gloomy Durban conditions following plentiful rain.
Loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira
was withdrawn from the intended starting XV not long before the game, apparently having been labouring for a few days with a dead-leg problem, and that after tighthead Jannie du Plessis (hand) had already been declared unavailable.
Clarity over both props’ readiness or otherwise for the final is awaited, whilst the Du Plessis moment of apparent madness only adds another element of engine-room uncertainty.
Still, a silver lining came in the form of both Dale Chadwick
and Wiehahn Herbst
standing up to be counted at scrum-time against the Free Staters - there were plenty of these set-pieces, plus endless resets - so the Sharks need not feel too anxious about the front-row situation despite the great desire to have their best front-rankers available in Cape Town.
In the contrastingly sun-soaked Newlands semi, after all, WP had one of their frustrating off-days in scrummaging terms, allowing the Lions - who were otherwise pretty comfortably subdued - to get strong traction there early on.
In all other respects, though, Ntubeni had another sterling game before his sin-binning, only increasing the possibility that he may earn a call-up for the Bok end-of-year-tour squad.
He continued his ability to throw in with pinpoint accuracy to the lineouts, and was tigerish as a ball-carrier and tackler.
Province are hampered by the fact that seasoned Tiaan Liebenberg
is slowly rehabbing from a back injury, and won’t play again until Super Rugby 2014.
So in the event that Ntubeni is eliminated from contention for the final, they may be forced to break up the very efficient loose-trio alliance at present of captain Deon Fourie
, Siya Kolisi
and the seriously in-form Duane Vermeulen
by asking the nuggety Fourie to resume his career at hooker.
Of some concern is that lineout work is not his strongest suit at the best of times (though he has been magnificent in general play as open-side flank) and he may well be a little rusty anyway in that department.
WP coach Allister Coetzee
reportedly said afterwards of the Ntubeni incident: “I’ve seen worse tip tackles.”
It remains to be seen whether match officials share his view ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing