Currie Cup

WP-Lions: 4 gripping duels

2014-10-22 13:31
Kobus van Wyk (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Intensely closely-fought one-on-ones seem in the offing right across the park for Saturday’s inviting, first Currie Cup final in 28 years between Western Province and the Golden Lions at Newlands.

Although the respective line-ups were still awaited at the time of writing, both teams boast pretty settled looks and selections - unless there are some unexpected late curveballs - were not too hard to predict.

Here is a likely quartet of slug-outs with special appeal:

Kobus van Wyk (WP) v Courtnall Skosan (Lions)

The entire WP back three, also including Cheslin Kolbe and Seabelo Senatla, have been invaluable components of the drive to table-topping status after the ordinary phase and now into the home showpiece. Between them, they carry a lethal counter-attacking punch. Right wing Van Wyk – surely one of sleepy Nababeep’s most prominent products? -- is a perfect foil for the more diminutive fliers around him, given the power and height he adds to the brew, and he has a telepathic positional understanding with Kolbe on attack. But the 22-year-old cannot shirk his defensive duties in the final, given his task of policing in-form Skosan. The Lions’ No 11 was educated at Brackenfell High, not very far from Table Mountain, but his first-class years have all been Highveld-based and he is very much part of the Lions’ 2014 furniture. The sort of player who could wriggle through a pencil-width gap between two boulders, he was also competitive and assured in aerial play during the semi-final stuffing of the Sharks.

Juan de Jongh (WP) v Lionel Mapoe (Lions)

There’s no lack of class, experience or tigerish commitment in the outside centre channel on Saturday as De Jongh and Mapoe go head to head. This has also been a year where both seasoned pros have been recognised for leadership potential, with the former fronting WP as they run out on Saturday and the latter having been competent acting captain of the Lions when Warren Whiteley has been unavailable. Despite the ever-present danger posed by his swerving surges, De Jongh (surely close to a deserved Bok return?) will know that waltzing past the earthy, combative Mapoe is no simple task. The WP No 13’s own defensive mettle – and he’s a most decisive tackler – will be tested by his opposite number, always keen to bring out that trademark hand-on-head celebration when he corkscrews over the try-line for the red-and-whites. Mind you, De Jongh’s natty dance-steps aren’t exactly an introverted feature of his try-scoring acknowledgement, either ...

Nizaam Carr (WP) v Warren Whiteley (Lions)

It is a tribute to the colossal influence Carr has had on Province’s re-awakening domestically, after a largely ill-fated Super Rugby campaign, that his likely fitness for the final - after a worrisome early exit from the semi against the Blue Bulls - is seen as imperative by many Capetonians to their chances of grabbing back the cup after a year’s void on Saturday. A tireless workhorse of note, the rangy No 8’s skills set is a particularly lauded aspect of his armoury and he will be a crucial link between the pack and backline in WP’s attacking play against the Lions. This match-up is especially intriguing because direct rival Whiteley has similar rugby principles to Carr and is also in ebullient personal form - as evidenced by his cherry-on-top try after a long, thrilling solo run with some dummies thrown in against the Sharks last weekend. This pair are also scrapping for Bok recognition as first-in-line back-up to Duane Vermeulen for the Bok No 8 shirt, so it spices their encounter even further.

Pat Cilliers (WP) v Schalk van der Merwe (Lions)

I felt the cornerstone of the Lions’ thrashing of the Sharks was loosehead prop Van der Merwe’s jaw-dropping first-half destruction of unsuspecting England prop Matt Stevens at scrum-time last Saturday. They say a prop is sometimes only as good as the other seven men operating with him, but it was on “Hond” van der Merwe’s side of the scrum that the spirit of the visitors was especially punctured. Little wonder that Stevens did not re-appear for the second half. Clearly Johan Ackermann will be banking on his No 1 asserting himself once more in the final, where Van der Merwe will grapple slightly “yesteryear” Springbok Cilliers (unless there is a bit of thought by Allister Coetzee to starting with yeoman-serving Brok Harris at tighthead). The WP coach tends not to shake the bag too much, and as the mobile Cilliers has also been serving as vice-captain, he still seems clear favourite to start at No 3 when the hosts reveal their brew on Thursday. Province had a few heartening scrums against the Bulls ... though the Lions will still suspect it is a potential home Achilles heel to fervently exploit.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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