Currie Cup

WP v Lions: It’s been a while

2014-10-18 23:20
Cheslin Kolbe (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – The 2014 Absa Currie Cup has its fitting, refreshing final.

Few could dispute the right of Western Province and the Golden Lions, who will contest the showpiece at Newlands next Saturday, to be there.

They were the most consistent and enterprising teams of ordinary season, and the comfortable way they saw off respective semi-final foes the Blue Bulls and Sharks only underlined that point.

If anything, next week’s visitors to the Cape made the stronger statement on Saturday, as they humiliated the KwaZulu-Natalians 50-20 at Ellis Park and by six tries to three.

The unexpectedly one-sided nature of the game was influenced by a brutally dominant scrummaging showing by the Lions: we have known for some time that it is a key aspect of their game but probably not to the extent demonstrated in the semi, as it knocked the stuffing right out of the Sharks.

Loosehead prop Schalk van der Merwe was particularly on song, the 23-year-old giving veteran former England front-ranker Matt Stevens a torrid afternoon in the Highveld sunshine – or at least until the Sharks felt it necessary to summon Lourens Adriaanse and Dale Chadwick off the bench to try, with limited success, to stop the “bleeding” at the set-piece.

Van der Merwe certainly raised his hand again for a maiden call-up to the Springbok squad for the end-of-year tour, even if Tendai Mtawarira and Trevor Nyakane are in front of him in the existing pecking order for the No 1 shirt.

But there were other Lions standouts on another day marked by admirable unity of purpose by Johan Ackermann’s charges across the board, including fairly diminutive wing Courtnall Skosan who competed fiercely in the air, rugged centre Howard Mnisi who showed silky skills to go with his brawn, and rampaging flanker Jaco Kriel.

The second semi-final, bagged 31-23 by WP, was a less one-sided affair, although the fact remained that for long tracts of the game the Bulls were at least two scores behind and they lacked the willingness and ability – until the closing minutes – to mix up their game sufficiently.

What you see is still what you get from them: the intention to dominate the physical exchanges (although Province’s lighter tight five stood up very courageously and industriously) and over-reliance on a dour tactical kicking game where they too often turn hard-won possession into a 50-50 lottery through up-and-unders.

Rugby has moved on, and it is time the Bulls caught up; they should have the personnel to make a decent fist of Super Rugby – where they are three-time champions -- in 2015 but only if they acknowledge the need for greater variety to their game-plan.

Especially with Handre Pollard one channel too wide at centre on the day to be as influential as his team-mates might have liked, the Bulls played clear second fiddle for ball-in-hand sparkle, and laboured to contain lethal WP raiders out wide like Cheslin Kolbe and Kobus van Wyk.

A big concern for Province fans, looking ahead to the final, will be that loose forward Nizaam Carr, one of the most stellar performers of this year’s competition, left the field in the first half with an injury and did not return – although replacement Sikhumbuzo Notshe put up a sterling effort in his place.

Adding to the appeal of the final – WP will be trying to atone for losing to the Sharks at Newlands last year -- will be the fact that the contestants have not met at this stage of the proud old domestic competition since 1986 at the same venue.

The Lions were obviously still Transvaal then, and they put up an almighty battle to try to prevent Province winning a record fifth Currie Cup on the trot.

That final, with Carel du Plessis and Jannie Breedt the respective captains, was on a knife edge until the dying minutes when WP centre Goggie van Heerden raced away for two memorable tries to give the final score of 22-9 in hometown favour a flattering look.

A point of interest for the latest encounter next weekend is that WP’s current director of rugby, Gert Smal, was among the Province loose forwards in the 1986 showpiece.

A year later, the WP hot streak was broken as they failed to even make the final.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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