Johannesburg - The Currie Cup has been played out below the radar this season, but the big Springbok defeat to the All Blacks has ensured that the world’s oldest domestic competition will come into much sharper focus this coming weekend.
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Bok coach Allister Coetzee’s praise for the performances of some of the members of the back three of the team that was humiliated in Albany was either a case of the management staff being in denial or wanting to protect players that have been heavily criticised. If it is the latter it is understandable as that is the way coaches are and should be, but it is hard to believe that Coetzee is not going to be watching the wings and fullbacks in action in the Currie Cup with more than just a casual interest.
On Monday Coetzee released a clutch of players, including two players on national contracts who were initially precluded from playing domestic rugby, to the provinces. As stated, there is a need for those players to play as they haven’t seen much action recently, but several of them could also make a statement that could influence selection going forward.
The match between the Sharks and the Blue Bulls in Durban on Saturday could be particularly interesting in that regard, as Handre Pollard gets his first opportunity to play a full game in quite a while. Elton Jantjies hasn’t done anything yet to merit him being dropped but the questions are starting to be asked and if he doesn’t provide the answers and Pollard produces at Currie Cup level then his recall to the No 10 jersey may not be that far away.
Warrick Gelant is winning a lot of support for his potential to be the Bok fullback, although the incumbent Andries Coetzee did draw rave reviews from the Bok coach when the squad arrived back in South Africa on Sunday. Should he and Pollard line up in the same Bulls backline at Kings Park it could be a good measurement of where they are as the Sharks are the one consistent team in the competition and possess a good defensive game.
It would be naïve to equate the modern Currie Cup with anything like international level, but the Durban game, with the Bulls having shown signs of resurgence even in defeat to the Golden Lions last week, should provide a superior quality to most of the games we have seen in the competition this year.
Dan du Preez and Chiliboy Ralepelle are the two Bok tourists released to play for the Sharks and they too could have something to gain, particularly Du Preez, as the No 8 position is not cut and dried in the continued absence of Warren Whiteley.
Western Province shouldn’t encounter too much opposition from Griquas at Newlands but there are also several players in their team that could be looking to give Coetzee a little nudge by way of a reminder of what they can do. Damian de Allende has played only off the bench for the Boks recently but could profit if Coetzee decides to tamper with a midfield that was praised in the early parts of the season but is increasingly looking short of a genuine outside centre, with Jesse Kriel’s great pace and attacking skills perhaps putting him in line for a shift to wing.
Unfortunately the forward battle probably won’t be big enough for Wilco Louw to stake a claim as the Bok starting tighthead, but there again the Bok coaches should have seen enough of him and would know his capabilities. Wing Dillyn Leyds will also be back in Currie Cup action and enjoys a lot of support from sections of the Cape media but that support seems to ignore the fact that Leyds hardly qualifies as a solution to the main weakness of the Bok back three - that being lack of physical presence.
Unfortunately the Lions aren’t in action this week as they enjoy a bye. It might have been opportune for the two Lions centres, Harold Vorster and Rohan Janse van Rensburg, to be playing, though like Louw, the Bok coaches should know the capabilities of Janse van Rensburg in particular.
Talking of knowing the capabilities of players, a player not playing Currie Cup this weekend but worthy of watching in the PRO14 is Cheetahs captain Francois Venter. The man known as Swys went with the Boks to Argentina as a travelling reserve a few weeks ago but has generally been ignored after making his international debut on last year’s end of season tour.
All of this speculation about the centres is of course predicated on the belief that the Bok coach will by now be questioning whether the incumbent, Kriel, is really a centre and not perhaps a wing. He has the gas for the latter but perhaps not the tactical nous for the former.
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