Dodging raindrops at Michaelhouse MTB

2009-10-31 00:00

THE Free State Cheetahs may be sentimental favourites but the pedigree of the Blue Bulls, backed by the boot of Morne Steyn and a vocal Loftus crowd, is likely to triumph in the Currie Cup final in Pretoria this evening.

The Cheetahs, following their advance from bottom spot on the Currie Cup log after four successive defeats to the final, are one step away from completing the most remarkable of romantic upsets.

But today they bump the Super 14 champions, a bruising, organised team crowded with Springboks and world-class performers in wing Bryan Habana, halfbacks Steyn and Fourie du Preez, and locks Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.

The Cheetahs, of course, were in a similar position a fortnight back when they met the big-name Sharks and stunned the champions in Durban.

The Sharks were exposed in the scrum and at the breakdown while, surprisingly — and perhaps because they field a host of recuperating players — they also lacked the intensity needed to win the big game.

The Bulls, with an additional two weeks to settle in their Springboks and in front of their passionate supporters, will be better prepared and more willing than the Sharks.

They also have the most valuable match-winner in world rugby in Steyn, a flyhalf tailor-made for the Bulls’ territory game and able to translate field position and pressure into points.

Free State coach Naka Drotské is aware of the threat and believes that discipline will be critical in denying the Bulls scoring chances.

The Free Staters have conceded 129 penalties in 15 matches which is 23 less than the Blue Bulls. “The only chance you have against Morne Steyn is good discipline,” said Drotske. “You cannot give him goal-kicking opportunities in a final and expect to succeed. He never experiences an off day when it comes to goal-kicking so we have to maintain our outstanding discipline.”

Steyn has already proved a ruthless match-winner this year, against Super 14 and international opponents, and a fortnight ago he brought Western Province to their knees with seven successive penalties — the final one from the touchline — in the semi-final. With Victor Matfield and company holding the edge in the lineouts, the Bulls are certain to play this final down the touchline and around the tactical kicking of halfbacks Du Preez and Steyn.

This is not to suggest that the Cheetahs will provide easy pickings. Mentally the Free Staters are exceptionally strong, they play for 80 minutes, they have a strong tight five and they will certainly bother the Bulls at scrum-time. Bok flank Heinrich Brussow will also keep the Bulls busy at the breakdown and, if the Cheetahs can create momentum both at the tackle and in the scrums, they could place Matfield’s team under pressure.

The Cheetahs will not beat the Bulls in a kicking duel and it is perhaps surprising that they have dumped their most potent try-scorer, wing Jongi Nokwe, for defensive reasons when counter-attacking would appear to be their best chance of success.

The Free Staters have spent the week talking up their opponents with scrum coach Os du Randt saying they had little chance against world-class performers and lock Nico Breedt describing the Bulls lineout “as the best lineout in world rugby.”

But Matfield said complacency would not be a factor. “It’s easy to keep the guys focused and all the guys are desperate to win.”

There are any number of reasons why the Bulls, big, bruising and talented, should triumph at home today, but fairy-tales are about defying logic and the Free State Cheetahs believe they have one final chapter to write today.

Teams and more on Currie Cup final, page 78

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