Cape Town – The 2014 Absa Currie Cup has its fitting, refreshing
Few could dispute the right of Western Province and the
Golden Lions, who will contest the showpiece at Newlands next Saturday, to be
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
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