Super Rugby

Durban duel: Frans Steyn meets another midfield Mr Muscles

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Cheetahs centre Frans Steyn during the Super Rugby Unlocked match against the Pumas in Bloemfontein on 10 October 2020.
Cheetahs centre Frans Steyn during the Super Rugby Unlocked match against the Pumas in Bloemfontein on 10 October 2020.
Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images

Almost 650 kilometres separate Bloemfontein from Durban ... yet in rugby terms you might be excused for thinking they’re much closer than that.

There has long been abundant “transfer traffic” between the Cheetahs and Sharks, and most customarily on the route toward the coast.

The phenomenon is clearly demonstrated when you examine some of the biggest individual match-ups for Friday night’s (19:00) hugely important Super Rugby Unlocked tussle where the loser will probably fall out of title contention.

In short, a “crossover” theme between the franchises is easily evident.

Here are some of the positional contests to watch with an eagle eye ...

Marius Louw (Sharks) v Frans Steyn (Cheetahs)

The planet might have shuddered even more had the inside-centre battle pitted Steyn against a former Sharks behemoth of the role: Andre Esterhuizen.

But the last-named player is now on the books of Harlequins in England ... and we still get a healthy sniff of gunpowder at No 12 anyway.

In the visitors’ corner will be one of the most distinguished and recognisable rugby figures in South Africa, as the 1.91m, roughly 110kg Steyn, a double World Cup winner (2007 and 2019), makes a poignant but no doubt still extremely combative-intentioned return to Kings Park.

The 33-year-old has had two solid prior spells on their books, of course, but is back in the colours of the province of his birth, and here he runs smack-bang into a fellow ex-pupil (though a few years later) of Bloemfontein’s legendary Grey College.

Louw, 25, also plays with a natural directness and physical relish - he doesn’t give too much away to Steyn bodily at 1.82m and 96kg - and was in fine all-round form in last week’s whipping of the Pumas at Mbombela Stadium.

He ran some clever lines and gave deft offloads on route to the 42-19 outcome to go with his more grunt-renowned credentials.

Apart from the tricky task of policing enormously street-wise Steyn, the Sharks will be even keener that Louw excel again as they’re missing from the midfield their cerebral Bok No 13 incumbent and captain Lukhanyo Am through ill-timed injury.

Madosh Tambwe (Sharks) v Malcolm Jaer (Cheetahs)

The home outfit may be lamenting at present the absence of back-three maestros Aphelele Fassie and S’bu Nkosi (injured) and Makazole Mapimpi (“sabbatical” in Japan) … but someone like Tambwe more than maintains a thrill factor in that area of the park.

He had a couple of devastating attacking forays in Nelspruit a few days ago - including a lovely try after great footwork and a lightning burst of speed - and his former Lions coach Swys de Bruin, in television analysis this week, trumpeted him as “the stallion ... a great player”.

Tasked with keeping the on-song, Kinshasa-born Tambwe in check is Cheetahs right wing Jaer, a pocket rocket who also loves being on the front foot whenever possible.

He provided nightmares to the Pumas in round one of the competition when he banked a hat-trick of tries - including two in the first 12 minutes.

Henco Venter (Sharks) v Junior Pokomela (Cheetahs)

Both men are acting captains of their respective franchises, and on duty in the blindside flank position at Kings Park.

So not only will their own battle be important, but how well they pull tactical and motivational strings could also be a key determinant of the result in such a high-stakes fixture.

Yes, Venter is another of those Bloemfontein-born, Grey-educated members of the Sharks’ ranks after his switch earlier this year; he is well able to mix it at close quarters but also exploits his mobility to be prominent in open play.

Much the same applies to Pokomela, although he sports slightly bigger physical dimensions and may have an edge for authority at the back of the lineout.

Port Elizabeth-born, the former SA Schools and U20 star has been on the Cheetahs’ books for some four seasons and will know Venter’s game extremely well.

 Pokomela has also been dovetailing superbly at flank thus far with equally dynamic, marauding and quick-to-the-breakdown Andisa Ntsila.

Ox Nche (Sharks) v Luan de Bruin (Cheetahs)

How often might these two have scrummed down against each other at training?

There is no possibility of any “unknown factor” here when Sharks loosehead Nche grapples the Cheetahs’ No 3 De Bruin at the set-piece.

For several years, whether at youth or senior professional level, these two were squad-mates at Free State Stadium until the former packed his bags for Durban at the end of last season.

Currently a one-cap Springbok but playing with a commitment that suggests serious further ambitions, low-slung Nche has quickly become a fresh favourite in the Durban ranks following the retirement of yeoman-serving Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira.

Already renowned for his big hits and drives, Nche has given plenty of attention to his scrummaging recently, and coming up against beefy 27-year-old tighthead De Bruin (still young enough to realistically seek higher honours himself) is another chance to tick a box on that crucial front.

That desire, mind, may be mutual ...

Teams:

Sharks

15 Manie Libbok, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Madosh Tambwe, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Henco Venter (captain), 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 JJ van der Mescht, 3 John-Hubert Meyer, 2 Dan Jooste, 1 Ox Nche

Substitutes: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Michael Kumbirai, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Werner Kok

Cheetahs

15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Malcolm Jaer, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Junior Pokomela (captain), 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Charles Marais

Substitutes: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Khutha Mchunu , 19 Oupa Mohoje , 20 Jeandre Rudolph, 21 Ruben de Haas, 22 Reinhardt Fortuin, 23 Chris Smit

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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