|Volume 1 - Week 33|
Brilliant! Its semi-final time in the Currie Cup, the supporters’ familiar banter and the silly betting omni-present during the season is reaching full steam. With all four wind directions present in the final four, the coming weekend’s matches between WP/Free State and Sharks/Lions will be very exciting and a few more hair styles will be upset.
The majority of pundits believes and predicts that the final in a week’s time is a foregone conclusion between last year’s protagonists WP and the Sharks. Rugby is never a predictable sport and with so-called upsets happening season in and season out the coming weekend will be no different. The players as with all professional sportsmen, have a fiercely competitive streak and rightly so, they will never succeed at their profession if they were not intently focused on winning. A match with the word “final” attached generate a different set of circumstances than a normal league match, any player who’ve played in “finals” will assure you that the pressure and finality of the outcome either inspires or demolish players. Experience is the key combined with that special acronym, BMT.
Let’s take a look at the two games: The Sharks will host the Lions in a match between the two most successful teams in the Currie Cup of the past decade. The Lions continuing in the mode of the Cats began the season as a very strong, well-drilled team doing the forward basics 100% and, well, play back to the forwards with irritating regularity. It is a successful pattern but to win matches against teams with quality forwards tries need to be scored.
The last few matches a different story emerged, the Lions are scoring great tries and a significant factor is the form of Gcobani Bobo and a different scrumhalf, Grant Bartle. The two young men have unlocked the potential of the Lions backline, with a fast crisp service from Bartle, Koen is able to dictate the game (Swanepoel tends to take the wrong options and play to the forwards too often, the rest of the ball is kicked away unceremoniously) and bring his centres into play. The back three of Hall, Delport and Jantjes is almost a test combination and should be abused never mind left unused.
The Lions forwards are strong in the tight phases but there must be a worry over the lineouts, Boshoff is the most inconsistent thrower in of the ball in the Currie Cup and this phase will be vital against the Sharks’ international duo. The loose-forwards are well balanced with the experience of Vos leading the youthful brilliance and exuberance of Winter and van Niekerk.
The hosts, the Sharks confident after a win over champions WP is a tough and experienced team intent on going one step further than two successive final defeats in last year’s Currie Cup and this year’s Super 12. The team is well drilled and coached with enough stars to fill most national sides and captained by most capped (and respected, Breyten!) Springbok, Mark Andrews.
The team plays hard uncompromising rugby and with forward domination the backs utilise the fast and innovative service of Davidson to good effect. Halstead at centre is both the rock and the fulcrum of the backline and with great finishers like Terreblanche, Snyman and Swart, any opportunities will be converted into points.
The match will be hard fought up front with massive intensity and test match temperament, the relative inexperience of the Lions forwards may benefit the hard men from the Sharks and my prediction is forward dominance by the home team. One important question remain, is Gaffie Du Toit a big match player? A lot depends on the ultra-talented pivot and with no less inspiration than to prove every doubting Thomas wrong once and for all he should not lack any motivation. He holds the key to a Sharks’ victory and if he can emulate young Butch James’ form in the corresponding Super 12 match earlier this year, the Sharks will be too strong for the Lions.
The other match is a replay of a match played two weeks ago but do not expect a similar result, Free State may possess a young team but they are interspersed with some unbelievable experienced and talented players like Venter and Erasmus. Add to the mix Kennedy Thsimba, Wylie Human and Friederich Lombaard the “Vrystaters” can produce a dazzling display of skills. The question is will they receive enough ball from tight forwards thoroughly dominated in the previous outing? Backline players enjoy good ball on the front foot, it is the secret of any successful team however to accomplish this is easier said than done against the champions, WP.
The most successful Currie Cup side in history will look to dominate the ‘00’s and with a good combination of youthful experience and a strong coaching staff it is within their grasp to establish a prolonged dominance of the local rugby set. WP possesses the two Springbok test props and with Hottie Louw resuming normal service, an exciting, grafting backrow of Krige, Gerber and Skinstad they can create ample opportunity for exciting backs to dazzle. Chris Rossouw is a class flyhalf with distribution skills second to none, the presence of Braam (candidate for player of the year) and silky running skills of Monty, Breyten and Rossouw should prove too much for the “Blikore”.
WP seemingly firm in control of their own destiny can easily become the architects of their own downfall. As long as they approach this match with the seriousness it deserves, Free State stands very little chance of progressing to their second Currie Cup final in the last ten years. The head says WP will win but with a season so perfect hopefully their last and only hiccup was the defeat against the Sharks, somehow the warning that they were lucky throughout the season mulls through ones head…
The Currie Cup apart, Ireland produced a thrilling display to dispatch Wales with a record score and the final match against England should prove very interesting. The big debate at the moment is the safety of the players during overseas tours, hopefully the administrators will keep a close eye on proceedings and make intelligent and informed decisions on the forthcoming tours.
A very interesting announcement was the Zurich World XV and the inclusion of only one player from the Southern Hemisphere, Owen Finnegan. The matter did not receive much attention, as could be expected from such an openly misconstrued perception of a few countries’ rugby strength. The Lions’s lost against the Wallabies yet these players are regarded as “better” than their conquerors, huh? The end of season tours will set a few records straight and with the delayed Six Nations there are very little excuses, it is strength versus strength, afterwards choose a World XV.
Good luck to all the respective teams, hopefully there will be quality rugby on display and the final will be between two teams most deserved of the honour. Support your team at the park, live!
Incremental Steps by Desmond Organ
Following another round of Currie Cup action and a hastily organized practice session for the Springbok potentials, we are at the point where the end of year squad is to be finalised. I am surprised at the desire to name the squad prior to the completion of the domestic competition. Whilst, there are unlikely to be wholesale changes to the squad, there is always the possibility that a fringe player will play a blinder.
Wynand Claasen, the Convener of Selectors has already expressed a desire to re-establish the concept of National Trials. This change in direction is intended to provide more exposure to the players that are part of smaller Unions, but who have demonstrated the ability to excel at the individual level. There is clearly a desire within the National coaching set up to rely on specific groups of players and ignore others. Since assuming the position of National coach, Harry Viljoen has done an excellent job of keeping us in the dark as to his selection strategy.
There have been several sets of selections as to who should be the center pairing and it appears as if injury may well provide us with some stability. Robbie Fleck is undoubtedly a great individualistic player, but he has failed to impress me as a player who is consistently able to establish a pattern with his center counterpart. A lot has to do with the selection inconsistencies of the national selectors, but how many combinations do you try before you realize that selecting a pair that play regularly with each other is at least going to enable you to work around a known entity.
It appears as if the shadow backs that practiced on Sunday will be the first choice for the end of year tour, barring any injuries towards the end of the season. It should look something like this:
9. Joost van der Westhuizen
10. Braam Van Straaten
11. Dean Hall
12. Trevor Halsted
13. Andre Snyman
14. Breyton Paulse
15. Conrad Jantjes
This is not necessarily the group that Harry Viljoen would have penciled in at the beginning of the year, but injuries and the reality of winning have forced his hand. In this group there is at least a combination of reliability and experience coupled with the individualistic brilliance of players like Paulse, Jantjes and van der Westhuizen. This may not be the back’s of the next World Cup, but I can at least guarantee that there will be accurate goal Kicking, sound defence and explosive individualistic performances. This may be just what the team requires in the three quarters, especially if you consider the strength in the forwards.
South Africa’s coaches should try to complete the tour with the same back’s if at all possible. This will give the new players confidence to explore new opportunities and techniques whilst feeling assured of reliable support and guidance from the senior players. I have argued the need for a comprehensive development strategy in the national team, with incremental development plans for some time now. Hopefully the combination of unfortunate injuries and the lessons that the national coach has learned so far will help South Africa move forward to the next level of performance.
The forwards are going to resemble the same group that did duty in the Tri Nations plus the addition of players like AJ Venter and Toks van der Linde. I will not be surprised to see Rassie Erasmus excluded from the touring team. There is quite frankly far too much to lose from trying to resolve the personal conflict that supposedly exists between him and Bobby Skinstad. At the end of the day both are individually brilliant, but the leadership ability of Skinstad separates the two players.
If the eighties belonged to Northern Transvaal and Western Province, Natal and Transvaal came strongly to the fore in the nineties. The winds of change were blowing in South African politics and the dark years of isolation were almost over. Natal coach, Ian McIntosh, had led his team back into the A section of the Currie Cup, after languishing in the B section for many years. Now, in their centenary year, Natalians were about to savour Currie Cup glory for the first time.
The 1990 final was expected to be a one-sided affair. Northerns had thumped Natal in both earlier encounters; by a massive 28 - 6 in the second at Loftus, only a fortnight before the final. Natal was given no chance of lifting the trophy but the critics had under-estimated the wiles of Ian McIntosh. He brought in veteran lock, André Botha, as his trump card, whilst shifting the 115Kg Steve Atherton to the flank.
It was one of the heaviest packs ever seen in Currie Cup and they ripped into their opponents from the start, spear-headed by the robust vigour of Wahl Bartmann. Joel Stransky slotted three penalties to give Natal a 9 - 3 lead at halftime. Naas Botha put over a drop early in the second half and created an overlap for the late Gerbrand Grobler to get a touchdown under the sticks.
Suddenly, Northerns were 12 - 9 up and threatening to nail the coffin shut. But rugby history was about to change in a moment of rugby magic forever etched in the memory of Natal fans. Stransky worked the blindside and handed on to Tony Watson, who beat Theo van Rensburg, to twinkle-toe his way to a momentous touchdown under the sticks. It was a hundred years in the making but well worth the waiting. Natal had won 18 - 12.
Durban erupted with joy. There were receptions and street parades; a newfound pride in Natal rugby. A local sign-writer prepared a large billboard reading, "YOU ARE NOW ENTERING CURRIE CUP COUNTRY.'' It was erected at the top of Van Reenens Pass where it stood for some years, riddled with 38 calibre bullet-holes, presumably by irate visitors from the north.
Pride comes before a fall. Natal repeated the previous year’s win against Northerns but mid-season defeats by Transvaal and wooden-spoonists, Eastern Province a week later, ended their challenge. The 1991 final was at Ellis Park between Transvaal and Northerns. The referee was Freek Burger and Northerns won 27 - 15.
It was a visit from Steve Macqueen, later to coach the Wallabies, that changed Natal's fortunes in the 1992 season. In his book, ''The face of rugby,'' Ian Mac tells of his friendship with the great Australian innovator and the valuable ideas he gained which transformed Natal's game in ' 92. The final itself was the usual tight affair. Led this time by Wahl Baartmann, who had been discarded by the selfsame Transvaal a couple of years earlier, Natal took the game to their highveld opponents from the get-go. They moved the ball quickly out to Pieter Muller, who reversed to Gary Teichmann coming through on the burst, for a try that would silence home support early in the game.
But Transvaal was a formidable team in ' 92 and soon settled down, to turn the game into one of those titanic struggles that so typified the strength vs strength epics of those years. It was a heart-stopping affair with Theo van Rensburg, now Natal assistant coach, demonstrating his future loyalties, when he missed a fairly close-range shot in the closing minutes to let Natal off the hook. The great Naas Botha, who two years earlier had claimed it would be another 100 years before Natal again won the Currie Cup, was obliged to eat his words. Natal were back with a 14 - 13 win.
Ian McIntosh was appointed Bok coach, with the youthful Harry Viljoen taking over the Natal side. The 1993 final was played at Kings Park, again between Natal and Transvaal. With twenty to go, Natal were leading 12 – 6, with the home pack and Stransky's boot seemingly in full control, but fate had other ideas. Gavin Johnson scooped up a loose ball and was driven over the line by current Natal coach, Rudi Straeuli. Going into the death only 15 - 16 down, Natal were still in with a chance but Uli Schmidt chased down a loose ball for a killer try that saw the Vaal home 21 - 15.
The 1994 final saw the great Transvaal combo reach its zenith, with a crushing 56 - 33 victory over Free State on their own home turf. A year later, it would be essentially this Transvaal combo in green and gold, which would bring the greatest rugby honour of all to the new Rainbow Nation.
After the disappointment in New Zealand, Ian Mac received his DCM (Don't Come Monday) from Louis Luyt and returned to his beloved Natal with renewed drive and energy. It was sopping wet at Kings Park when Western Province came up for the 1995 final. In theory the wet should have suited WP but it was Natal's day. They drilled Province in the scrums to give Kevin Putt and flyhalf, Thierry Lacroix. all the possession they needed for a 25 - 17 victory. Mac was back!
In 1996 the honours again went to Natal. It was a desperately close affair until, with about twenty to go, the Rolls Royce struck. Who will ever forget André Joubert scything through the defence like a geased panga, after a slick reverse from Jeremy Thomson, for a brilliant touchdown under the sticks. Even the partisan Ellis Park crowd applauded when he followed it up with a simple blindside move, followed by a chip 'n collect to give his team a runaway 33 - 15 victory.
The 1997 final was between Western Province and Free State at Newlands, after the Free Staters had drilled Natal in a classic Kings Park semi. The visitors with their big, powerful pack were the pre-game favourites but it was Justin Swart who lifted his knees up high for a forty metre sprint to a Province touchdown and a 14 - 12 victory.
Indelibly etched in the Free State memory is Helgard Muller's long floater to Jan Harm van Wyk in the dying seconds. The speedy winger raced away for what seemed a match-winning try in the corner. A thunderous 'HAAAAK VRYSTAAAAAAT'' resounded from Koffiefontein to Villiers but alas, it was all in vain as a shrill blast from André Watson's whistle signaled the forward pass.
The 1998 Currie Cup season saw the old rivalries of the seventies and eighties revived as the Blue Bulls of Northern Transvaal rode a wave of nostalgic emotion to a final against the old enemy, Western Province. Cheered on by the Loftus faithful, the Bulls scored an early first half try via chunky Coenie Breytenbach and then a beauty by young Wim Meyer at the start of the second, to run up a commanding lead. But Province struck back with a vengeance. Tries by Charl Marais and then Chester Williams brought them within range before the disputed forward pass to Williams, whose second try was disallowed, leaving the Bulls a 24 -20 victory.
The last final of the nineties was the swansong for many Sharks stalwarts, including the great Ian McIntosh. Sadly, their triumphant departure into the sunset was ruined by a masterly performance from Laurie Mains' slick Lions, who shut out the home team with a polished 32 - 9 victory.
It was the end of a great era for Natal, Transvaal and indeed, South African rugby. Perhaps it was also the beginning of a new era with Western Province returning to the victory trail for a first Currie Cup victory of the new century. Who knows what the future may hold but one thing is for certain. The Currie Cup is alive and well and living in South Africa!
Come on, Sean, I've got four million New Zealanders on my back, and now I must carry you around the course as well! John Hart to Sean Fitzpatrick after a three putt from three metres in a round of golf against the Springboks.
I don't like rugby and I work for The Irish Times. It's like being a day trader and working for Pravda. Tom Humphries.
We're going to tear those boys apart. Message pinned up on the changing room wall by England captain Will Carling before the All Blacks in the 1995 World Cup semi-final in Cape Town.
If you think you can win, you can win. Faith is necessary to victory. Unknown
Final Top 8 Currie Cup Log
Letters to the Editor
A quick not to point out that this weekend's final is not a "finish & klaar" business as so many okes believe. C'mon guys this country's rugby is not just about WEEPEE and the SHARKS, there are some excellent players in all the sides and believe you me an upset there will be, come Saturday evening!
LIONS!!!! and FREE STATE!!!!!
Dit was nou mooi rugby die naweek. Lekker in my eie losie sit en kyk. Jammer vir die verloorspanne maar so gaan dit mos maar. Ek dink nog steeds dat die beste losskakel in die land Gaffie du Toit is. Sir Harry en sy mede keurders hoef nie verder vir 'n losskakel te soek nie. Mnr Bobo (Senter: Goue Leeus) speel ook met elke wedstryd beter. Die wyse manne moet hulle nie blindstaar teen bekende name in die groter bonde se spanne nie. Daar is soos ek vroëer al genoem het goeie spelers in die ander spanne. Nie net WP het rugbyspelers nie. Ek is seker eenogig, maar kan iemand vir my verduidelik wat maak ons huidige Springbok kaptein so uniek dat almal dink hy is so 'n uitmuntende goeie speler. Dit klink so al soos die huidige regering se beleid, dat jy kan droogmaak soos jy wil en solank jy net die regte naam het sal jy aanbly. Soos ek al in 'n vorige brief genoem het, het Mnr Viljoen en sy kollegas glad nie 'n verskoning om 'n swak span te kies nie. Ons het volop talent om 'n sterk Springbokspan te kies.
Hier kom 'n ding.
Groete uit my losie.
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