Cape Town - Yes,
you can almost hear the scorn from Johannesburg already.
bells, haven’t you learnt your lesson yet?” sort of sentiment.
But with the
second Currie Cup final in a row on Saturday to be contested between the same
foes - defending champions Western Province and the Sharks, at Newlands - there
is at least some ammunition to justify reopening the debate about whether South
African rugby power (as far as the bigger picture of Super Rugby 2019 is
concerned) is slowly shifting back toward the coast.
could mean, frankly, either toward the chilly waters around Cape Town or the
warmer ones in Durban ... or even both to a good degree.
Lions supporters, of course, have heard all this before: this writer isn’t the
only rugby scribe seduced a few times before in recent years into the belief -
later proved utterly foolhardy - that a better chance of success in the
multinational SANZAAR competition, following completion of the previous year’s
Currie Cup, might rest either at Newlands or Kings Park.
It is now
three “dry” seasons in a row, if you include the current one, for the Golden
Lions in terms of appearances in Currie Cup finals, after they last graced it
in 2015 and (still under Johan Ackermann’s tutelage) deservedly beat WP 32-24
at Ellis Park.
hasn’t stopped them, subsequently, from being conspicuously South Africa’s most
competitive side in Super Rugby, with gutsy participation in all three finals
between 2016 and 2018.
for the last two years at very least, the situation appears to make a mockery of
any belief that Currie Cup success is somehow needed to precede a strong
follow-up showing in the next Super Rugby.
the time-honoured but now severely battered domestic competition having lost
enormous amounts of its prior lustre, there’s a case for saying it is even less
of a yardstick.
Or is it?
Currie Cup is overwhelmingly played nowadays minus the presence of the most “inner-circle”
Springboks, the ongoing phenomenon of good-quality South African players at or
around the peak of their playing potential being plucked away to the lure of
foreign-club currency means, in many respects, that the home-staged event has
actually gained in importance as a builder of depth and young talent to unleash
on the bigger stage from February onwards in Super Rugby.
still a couple of months for beef-up possibilities on the player staffing front
at Ellis Park, and the Lions will reinfuse early next year certain customers
campaigning as usual, for example, in Japan or locked in Bok obligations (like
blue-chip Malcolm Marx and Aphiwe Dyantyi) at present.
than go one step further in 2019 by finally shedding their “silver medal” tag
and winning the Super Rugby showpiece, I have a mounting suspicion that the
Lions’ goose is now cooked - at least for the foreseeable future - both as
potential finalists and as SA’s best team.
some fresh-faced customers with pleasing X-factor in their midst, but for
all-important balancing purposes they are certainly going to feel the absence
in 2019 of now-departed, crustier figures Jacques van Rooyen, Jaco Kriel,
Franco Mostert (his UK deal admittedly not quite done and dusted), Rohan Janse
van Rensburg and Ruan Dreyer.
third place in the single-round Currie Cup this year hasn’t been a train smash
by any means, confirmation that a few of their next generation still have
plenty to learn came, perhaps, in their defeats to the very sides now
contesting Saturday’s final - the Lions leaked an ominous 65 points to visiting
WP, and then a week later went down by a comprehensive 16 points to the Sharks
general, but possibly far from insignificant terms, both coastal sides look
increasingly as though they will be able to strike better balances between
greenhorns and “hardebaarde” by the time Super Rugby 2019 comes along, as well
as quite feasibly eclipse the Lions for second-tier strength whenever men in
key positions go down injured.
there will be increased pressure, you can be sure, from the respective
boardrooms for both the Sharks and Stormers to pull up their socks with some
intent in the SANZAAR tournament after both punched disappointingly below most
appropriate weight, arguably, in this year’s Super Rugby.
This is an
early call, and again there will be great guffaws of mockery in the Big Smoke,
but Saturday’s Currie Cup final, featuring quite a few of the personnel who
will move onward to spearhead the respective Super Rugby assaults, may well be
a harbinger to some extent of which of that specific pair of teams from our
shores fares best in the bigger competition, just around the corner in later
On the plus
side, Lions fans, I was wrong once.
even three times.
largely in the face of statistical material again, I realise I may simply be
setting myself up for a fatal fourth occasion of egg plastered all over face ...
*Between the current “big three” SA
franchises/unions, here is a reminder of Currie Cup successes for the last
three seasons, with subsequent Super Rugby campaigns the next year added on:
finalists: Lions, WP. Champions: Lions. Next Super Rugby (2016): Lions losing
finalists, and second overall in ordinary season (Stormers third, Sharks
finalists: Cheetahs, Bulls. Champions: Cheetahs. Next Super Rugby (2017): Lions
losing finalists, and first overall in ordinary season (Stormers third, Sharks
finalists: Sharks, WP. Champions: WP. Next Super Rugby (2018): Lions losing
finalists, and second overall in ordinary season (Sharks eighth, Stormers
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