Currie Cup leaders hold the key

2010-10-14 14:53

It is quite fitting that long serving Springbok teammates Schalk Burger and Juan Smith will play crucial roles for Western Province and the Cheetahs in Saturday’s second Absa Currie Cup semifinal in Cape Town.

When considering the pressure they have felt over the years to remain the automatic Bok selections in a position where there has rarely been a shortage of candidates, the performances of Burger and Smith could turn out to be the decisive factor.

However, the Cheetahs are better known for winning crunch matches which begs the question whether Province are ready to make the step up.

It is easy to look back to 2001, the last year Western Province lifted the Currie Cup, and draw the conclusion that they have not been a dominant force in South African rugby since that victory.

But when considering what the Cape Town squad accomplished in the last two years, it is only a matter of time before lady luck smiles in their favour.

Quality rugby is being played in the Western Cape at all levels. With Maties still the only university to have won the Varsity Cup, and club rugby’s popularity in the region unsurpassed in the rest of country, a reflection of the sport’s improved health in the region is bound to reflect at the top tier soon.

Province not only secured their second consecutive Currie Cup final at home this season, they also featured prominently in the Super 14 as the Stormers, reaching the final.

But in both instances their historic rivals from Pretoria, the Blue Bulls, walked away with the spoils.

The loss to the Bulls in last year’s Currie Cup semifinal was one of the most traumatic experiences for the Province faithful as a final-minute blunder by wing Sireli Naqelevuki cost them what would have been a home final.

But instead of crying in a corner, the union took some pro-active steps and recruited men who are at their best in must-win matches.

Though his form may be debated, Bryan Habana is still considered to be a player who possesses the X-factor and he will have to feature prominently on Saturday if Province are to progress.

It also puts the toe-injury Jaque Fourie sustained into perspective as he too is capable of scoring when odds are stacked in favour of the opposition. Fourie will be out of action for eight weeks.

The mood of cautious optimism has once again settled in the Mother City, and although Province are favourites to win and a loss would be unbearable, it cannot be ruled out.

The psychological blow the Cheetahs dealt when they won their last match at Newlands has given them a renewed belief in their abilities.

And even before a ball was kicked in this edition of the domestic competition, the men from Bloemfontein were already labelled Currie Cup specialists.

It is therefore no surprise that the Cheetahs also fancy their chances as they can match their opponents in practically every department.

Up front Province suffered a huge loss when hooker Tiaan Liebenberg sustained a season ending injury - ironically against the Cheetahs.

Losing loosehead prop Wicus Blaauw - to a hamstring injury prior to the last game against the Cheetahs - didn’t help matters either.

With Liebenberg and Blaauw watching this one from the stands, there is no question that Adriaan Strauss and the loosehead who scored a hat-trick this year, Coenie Oosthuizen, should dominate their facets of play, giving the Cheetahs the upper hand in the front row battle.

The real power in the Province pack lies in locks Anton van Zyl and Adriaan Fondse who have been consistent throughout the season.

As far as loose-trios are concerned, not much separates the two sides as both Ashley Johnson and Duane Vermeulen are bound to be upset if they do not get the nod from the Springbok selectors.

Both sides have reliable goal kickers and the Cheetahs have four centres in their backline, with Philip Snyman and Corne Uys on the wings.

The onus therefore lies on Habana and Gio Aplon to use the experience they have out wide to trump Uys and Snyman who look more comfortable closer to the action.

Another enticing battle will be between scrum-halves Tewis de Bruyn and Ricky Januarie who share a reputation for blowing hot and cold.

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