Thursday 24 October 2013

Currie Cup For Beginners: Final Preview

It's been eleven long weeks, and just as the Rugby Championship finishes, the showpiece of South African rugby is on this weekend. In a repeat of last year's final, Western Province will be defending their crown against the Natal Sharks. A host of returning Springboks should mean that this game has the potential to capture the imagination in the way that New Zealand and South Africa did in that memorable test match in Ellis Park three weeks ago.

Unlike last year, Western Province come into this game as heavy favourites, and will be hoping not to choke with that tag like the Sharks did. The tag of favourites is certainly justified having gone the season unbeaten, with the only blots being two draws against the Golden Lions and the Blue Bulls.

The two games between these sides were one score affairs, with late scores for the Sharks putting a shine to their performance in a dismal 25-19 loss to WP in Round 5 in Newlands, while it was a much tighter affair in the return game in Round 10, with Demetri Catrikilis late penalty giving Province a slight bit of breathing space in the final minutes. Round 10 marked the initial return of the international players, and the Sharks can improve again as further international stars like Patrick Lambie didn't feature as heavily.

Munster eyes will be on Gerhard van den Heever, playing his last game before moving. Photo RugbyRedefined
Irish eyes will be on Gerhard van den Heever, who will be playing his final game in South Africa before joining up with the Munster squad. He's had a good Currie Cup campaign, as demonstrated by his start in the final, but a return of only one try in the competition won't be setting pulses racing in the same manner as his youtube highlights.

Van den Heever is part of an exciting backline featuring the in form Gio Aplon, chasing a return to Springbok colours, and the talented Cheslin Kolbe, who was the star of the South African Under 20 side this year. Kolbe is one name to keep an eye on, as he will be featuring in debates on World XVs in a number of years time.

In the centres, Jean de Villiers moves out to outside centre to accomodate 21 year old Damian de Allende, who is enjoying his breakout season, and looks set to offer more in coming seasons in Super Rugby and beyond. His form is good enough to keep Juan de Jongh on the bench. Demetri Catrakilis is building on an impressive Super Rugby debut season for the Kings, and has managed to continue his form with Western Province, and will be partnering 23 year old halfback Louis Schreuder.

The pack has plenty of youthful experience, with Pat Cilliers and Steven Kitchoff both young props with South African caps, joined by 22 year old hooker Scarra Ntubeni, while returning Springbok Eben Etzebeth joins DeKock Steenkamp in a formidable second row partnership that will look to dominate the lineout and get through a mountain of dirty work. It will be left to Duane Vermuleun, in the form of his life, and Siya Kolisi to provide the ball carrying, while Deon Fourie will continue his fast growing reputation as one of South Africa's best poachers.

Strength in reinforcements will be provided by  Frans Malherbe, Brok Harris, Michael Rhodes, Schalk Burger, Nic Groom, Kurt Coleman and Juan de Jongh in what looks a strong, experienced and surprising youthful Western Province team. Schalk Burger is slowly making his comeback after injury hell for the former IRB Player of the Year in the last two years.

They might need it, as the Sharks have named close to their strongest possible team. Jean Deysel has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, so Willem Alberts replaces him. Not a bad replacement in the current South African blindside to bring in?

It'll be an all Springbok front row with Tendai Mtawarira, and the du Plessis brothers after Bismarck was somehow cleared of any suspension for stamping

22 year old Piet Marais and the impressive Pieter-Steph du Toit will be packing down in the second row, with Alberts, Daniels and Marcell Coetzee making up an impressive back row.

Patrick Lambie finally gets a start after being on the bench for so long for South Africa, and his fitness will be interesting to watch, he'll be partnered by the experience Charl McLeod while the youngster Cobus Reinach, who impressed many in Super Rugby is on the bench. Frans Steyn makes a return in the inside centre position, and will be partnered by Louis Ludik, while the Sharks back three has a mixture of pace and power with Odwa Ndungane, Lwazi Mvovo and SP Marias, the 24 year old from the Kings.

This game is clear to be a forward orientated battle, and will be an absorbing contest with two enormous packs battling it out. Sharks probably have edge in the scrum, but Eben Etzebeth is likely to rule the skies with his quick leap. The battle of the backrows will be fascinating with a mini Springbok audition between Marcel Coetzee and Siya Kolisi, in particular set to excite. A big performance from Catrakilis might interest Springbok selectors too, while out wide it'll be the skill and speed of Kolbe and Aplon against the raw power and pace of Mvovo and Ndungane. Sure to be an enthralling contest.

Western Province by 5.

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