CC final: 5 decisive one-on-ones

Dan du Preez (Gallo)
Dan du Preez (Gallo)

Cape Town – The coastal protagonists seem engagingly well-matched throughout their respective “23s”, but here is a suggestion of five positional duels worth keeping a special eye on in Saturday’s Currie Cup final between the Sharks and Western Province in Durban (16:00).

Lukhanyo Am v Ruhan Nel

He has featured at broader squad level for the Springboks this season but, also not helped by injury-related setbacks, slim yet strong outside centre Am still seeks that first proper green-and-gold recognition. There is an appropriate clamour for him to spice up the Bok midfield, and it will be a shock, frankly, if he misses the travel cut altogether for the imminent European tour. This fine prospect is no shrinking violet in contact – where he has a hawk’s eye for a turnover, too – and he may have to underline that against versatile back-liner Nel, brought into the WP midfield due to EW Viljoen’s unavailability. The 101kg Sevens star has been a revelation with his urgency and power, whether at wing or centre, but will know that Am is anything but a revolving door …    

Curwin Bosch v Robert du Preez

This is just a little like the script for a sports movie: son of the host team’s head coach, who is headed “homeward” next season, trying to ruin his dad’s dreams in a trophy game. Into the bargain, he encounters at No 10 a baby-faced wonder he may well be vying with for the Sharks jersey in Super Rugby 2018. (Ah, not to mention his two bruising siblings who’ll be setting off after him for pressuring purposes at every chance.) What we know is Du Preez v Bosch sees two of the brightest fly-halves in SA, both yet to start for the national team (though 20-year-old Bosch sports four brief minutes as a sub against Argentina in PE a few weeks back), come face to face, and with their appealingly contrasting styles and make-ups. They are skilful game-breakers in open play, but being a final their composure off the kicking tee when opportunities knock may be of paramount value. Given current form, neither may miss terribly much on the day … though psst, Bosch boasts longer range.

Dan du Preez v Nizaam Carr

Here are two eighth-men both bidding for berths on the end-of-year tour, and possibly having an eleventh-hour opportunity to sneak in (one at the expense of the other?). Carr has been a resurgent element for Province in this Currie Cup, with a work-rate, smartness and energy second to none in the position, although he was made to dig especially deep on defence at times in the semi last weekend, which could have taken a bit of a bodily toll. Du Preez will rely more on grunt, perhaps, than footballing finesse to try to outsmart his rival, who he comfortably eclipses in both weight and height. He seems a good call for northern hemisphere conditions, although a little oddly may still be behind his twin brother Jean-Luc in the Bok pecking order for No 8, despite the last-named player being a blind-side flanker far more commonly and doing that chore again in the showpiece …

Franco Marais v Bongi Mbonambi

A final can be decided on a moment of magic … but it can also be swayed on “efficiencies” if the contest is notably tight and tense. Here the hookers naturally play a major part, and whoever strikes up the better synergy with his respective lineout jumpers will be a treasured customer. Marais has done well to rise to the top of the pecking order at No 2 in Durban, in the fading slipstream of Bismarck du Plessis, and the former SA under-20 star, now 25, gets to measure himself under big-game stress here against an in-form Bok in Mbonambi, the current back-up to Malcolm Marx at Test level. The WP player put in a supremely workaholic shift against the very Marx in the semi-final at Newlands, probably being quietly tickled pink to see the big unit “popped” a few times at scrum-time. He also grafted ceaselessly in the loose, an area where Marais is similarly mobile and energetic even if he is rather closer in physique to Mbonambi than the juggernaut Lions star. One thing WP will not want is for their main hooker to have to leave the park early: reserve Ramone Samuels is combative, but his throwing-in stays highly questionable …

Thomas du Toit v Wilco Louw

Take cover! This is pretty much a case of two pantechnicons rumbling toward each other in the same lane, on a blind rise. You may feel the shudder, from your stadium seat or even the living room, as the 136kg Sharks loosehead prop Du Toit gets to grips with 130kg tighthead counterpart Louw at the set-piece. These are two of the best young props in the country, and probably the heftiest you will see of the good ‘uns, too. Who gets the edge in the scrums will be a vital, collective morale-booster for the benefiting pack, and both enter the final in healthy form as well. Louw, 23, is already a Springbok and bidding very forcefully to be first-choice at No 3 (ahead of the extremely tenuous Ruan Dreyer) on the Euro tour. Subduing the talented Du Toit, who is also such a ball-in-hand threat near the enemy try-line, will aid that drive …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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