This year’s Currie Cup final was
extraordinary in so many ways. Primarily because it was such an entertaining
game between the two sides who have embraced a more attacking approach. Perhaps
expected from the Lions, but less so from a side dubbed “The wall of Cape Town”
while masquerading as the defence orientated Stormers during Super Rugby.
It has taken a while, but it really is
truly heartening to see South African rugby (including that from the Boks)
embracing the more ball in hand, heads-up game played by the New Zealand sides.
The game’s survival depends on it being entertaining enough to entice the
public to spend their hard earned (and shrinking) disposable sheckles on it,
and people want to see offloads in the tackle to a fullback running the perfect
line, not two flyhalves kicking the dimples off a ball for 80 minutes.
Players also enjoy it more. It was great to
see Warren Whiteley and Juan de Jongh run onto Newlands with smiles on their
Coach Johan Ackermann deserves every ounce
of credit coming his way for what he has done with the Lions, but then so does
new Western Province Director of Rugby, Gert Smal. Implementing change is not
easy. Doing so using existing staff and players is even tougher. He has been
the needed breath of fresh air in the Cape, and quite obviously has a
management style that both players and coaches enjoy. Now to see if he can make
this brand of rugby work at Super Rugby level...
A few people questioned my sanity when I
credited the WP scrum for the win in the now traditional Sunday morning banter
on Twitter. This given the penalties awarded to the Lions come scrum time, and
the fact that the Lions still probably edged that battle.
But given what the Lions did to the Sharks
in their semi-final a week before, where luminaries such as Matt Stevens,
Thomas du Toit, Dale Chadwick and Lourens Adriaanse were used as a plough to
dig up Ellis Park with their retreating studs, how the WP pack kept that
juggernaut Lions scrum in check was simply remarkable.
Not known for their scrumming dominance
this season, I thought all of Alistair Vermaak (who really has come of age this
year), Pat Cilliers and Brok Harris were a superb in blunting what was a key
Lions weapon. And that would have resonated hugely with both teams, positively
for WP, and negatively for the Lions.
One could compare it to how the Boks and
All Blacks handled the mighty Argentinean Bajada. The Bok scrum got decimated
and the team thus struggled hugely in both games. While the All Blacks still
came second come scrum time, but marginally, and certainly not to the extent
that their own scrum ball was not usable.
And even with a few controversial scrum
penalties going against them (I find it tricky to believe that a scrum in
survival mode can still have the ability to wheel it intentionally), the WP
scrum kept their side in the game, while at the same time sowing a few seeds of
doubt in the minds of the Lions players.
That said, given the outstanding
performance of the Lions scrum this season (especially in Super Rugby), both
Julian Redelinghuys and Robbie Coetzee are deserving of their Bok call-ups.
That Redelinghuys is one of only two
tighthead props in a 36-man squad is quite ridiculous. Surely this is a
fantastic opportunity to give the other tighthead who has performed so well for
the Lions this year, Ruan Dreyer, a chance to experience the Bok culture.
Especially given that it is a position highlighted by the coach as one lacking
the depth he would like.
Instead we see four loosehead props in the
squad, including the proven to be surplus to company requirements Gurthro
Steenkamp. Enter stage right, the heart burn inducing sight of either Coenie
Oosthuizen or Trevor Nyakane being used on the wrong side of the scrum. Why do
we not learn from previous experiments gone wrong?
I would have had perhaps the most under
rated player in SA, Lions loosehead Schalk van der Merwe in place of Oosthuizen
at loosehead, and Dreyer in as a tighthead at the expense of Steenkamp.
It rewards form and players choosing to
play in SA, and renders a much more balanced squad. To my mind, it seems an
Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt.
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