News

Preview: Currie Cup, Round Nine

Thu, 04 Oct 2012 22:43
Griquas-with-currie-cup-630 Jr-esterhuizen-lions-v-griq Bjorn-basson-bulls-try-630 Marcel-brachie-offloads-630 Rocco-jansen-thumbs-up-630 Jean-deysel-stretches2-630 Cheetahs-huddle630
Jan de Koning looks at all the Round Nine action
Quote-end

It would be stating the all too obvious to say South Africa's premier domestic competition, the Currie Cup, has reached the business end.

In fact it is 'do-or-die' for most of the teams, as the dash for the play-off line has turned into a mad scramble.

Only the table-topping Golden Lions have already booked their place in the semifinals, but even they are still fighting for home ground advantage.

The second-placed Sharks are also well-placed, but for the rest there is only the reality that just one defeat could end their dreams.

The bottom-placed Blue Bulls go into their match against arch-rivals Western Province in Pretoria on Friday knowing that a defeat could do a lot more than just end their play-off hopes. Should Griquas record a bonus-point win and the Free State Cheetahs also triumph, it may condemn the Bulls to the wooden spoon and the possibility of playing in the First Division next season.

Griquas, who host the Lions in Kimberley on Saturday,  are also in a desperate position. Defeat will leave them with nothing more than a mathematical hope of qualifying for the play-offs.

The Cheetahs, who have the 'luxury' of a home game against the Sharks, will look to stay ahead of the Bulls and Griquas.

There is no doubt we are in for an intriguing final two rounds.

Blue Bulls flyhalf Louis Fouché tops the point-scoring standings -  114 points, made up of 12 conversions, 28 penalties and two drop-goals. Behind Fouché in tied second place on 94 are Sharks centre Meyer Bosman and WP flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis.

Cheetahs wing Raymond Rhule tops the try-scoring table with six touchdowns, with Blue Bulls loose forward CJ Stander, Sharks wing Odwa Ndungane and Griquas wing Rocco Jansen in a three-way tie for second place, with five tries apiece.

Jan de Koning looks at all the Round Nine action!

Friday, October 5:

Blue Bulls v Western Province
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)

Strap yourself in ... it is going to be a wild ride! These derbies are often brutal, but never boring.

These teams didn't need to talk the game up - the long-standing rivalry ensured the expectations are high. Tradition dictates that this is the most anticipated encounter of the season, even more so when one team gets a chance for revenge after a heavy defeat.

Bulls coach Pine Pienaar pointed to the basics as the key to victory for the men from Pretoria, desperately clinging to their hope of a spot in the play-offs.

"The past two games [against the Sharks and Cheetahs] our forwards laid a solid foundation," Pienaar said, adding: "That is one aspect that we will concentrate on.

"Our discipline has been outstanding ... we conceded just five penalties against the Sharks and just seven against the Cheetahs. That is an aspect that has improved [dramatically in recent weeks].

"Then, the areas we want to play in and how we get there have also been better in the last few weeks.

"It is a matter of, for 80 minutes, how you can put WP under pressure. They have one of the best defensive systems in the world."

Pienaar said they have worked on tactics, on how to put that formidable defensive system under pressure.

"At Newlands [a 42-6 win for WP last month] they kept stopping us behind the advantage line and we were forced to attack with slow ball, so one of our focus points this weeks was how we can get in behind that [defensive line]," Pienaar said.

Province coach Allister Coetzee believed the Bulls - Currie Cup finalists seven times in the last 10 years, but currently experiencing their worst season in decades - would come out all guns blazing in an attempt to keep their slim play-of hopes alive.

"We know how desperate the Bulls are and that is going to make them extremely dangerous," Coetzee said.

"We are expecting nothing less than them approaching this game as if it is their most important match of the season.

"The situation they are in is not one they are used to and they are an extremely proud union."

The Bulls were boosted by the return of three Springboks this week - wing Bjorn Basson, prop Dean Greyling and hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle - but Pienaar believes the collective effort, rather than individual brilliance will win the day.

"We know what class he has," he said of Basson, who hasn't played since he suffered internal organ damage in the Super Rugby semifinal loss to the Crusaders in July.

"However, on the day, it is not whether it is Bjorn [Basson] or Chiliboy [Ralepelle] ... as a team we have to be effective. Those individuals do give you a boost.

"However, it is more important that what we plan as a team must be executed. It is important that the individuals are accurate within our structure with what they have to contribute.

"As an example - [scrumhalf] Jano [Vermaak] must be accurate with his kicks, then Bjorn [Basson] can get into the game by putting them under pressure in the air.

"In the end it all starts up front  - those individuals have to be spot on ... we are well aware you can only beat WP with a team effort."

Results this year:

For the Blue Bulls:
Sharks 13-12 Blue Bulls
Blue Bulls 34-30 Free State Cheetahs
Griquas 49-34 Blue Bulls
Blue Bulls 23-32 Golden Lions
Western Province 42-6 Blue Bulls
Blue Bulls 42-31 Sharks
Free State Cheetahs 32-18 Blue Bulls
Blue Bulls 35-20 Griquas

For Western Province:
Western Province 9-22 Golden Lions
Western Province 45-21 Griquas
Sharks 43-27 Western Province
Free State Cheetahs 22-29 Western Province
Western Province 42-6 Blue Bulls
Golden Lions 26-23 Western Province
Griquas 20-25 Western Province
Western Province 23-25 Sharks

Prediction: It is Loftus Versfeld, a big factor. The Bulls are desperate, another key aspect in the drama. Western Province have been a touch erratic in recent weeks. It all makes for a very unpredictable match. We feel the desperation of the Blue Bulls will help them sneak a vital win, by less than 10 points.

Teams:

Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellett/Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Lionel Cronjé, 22 Ulrich Beyers.

Western Province: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Damian de Allende, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Tyrone Holmes, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Don Armand, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 19 Helmut Lehmann, 20 JJ Gagiano, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Pat Howard.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistants: Tiaan Jonker, Pieter de Villiers
TMO: JC Fortuin

Saturday, October 6:

Griquas v Golden Lions
(GWK Park, Kimberley - Kick-off: 14.00; 12.00 GMT)

The operative word for this match is hard, with a capital 'H'.

To start with, the surface in Kimberley is one of the last remaining pitches in South Africa (in fact probably in the world) that is deliberately compacted to trouble visiting teams.

And Griquas, when they are on form, have been pretty explosive, ferocious and frightful.

The defending champion Lions have been fearsome since their last defeat - ironically against Griquas in Johannesburg - and have upstaged Western Province, the Cheetahs, Blue Bulls and Sharks.

It was in testing conditions at a wet Newlands last week that the normally free-running Lions showed they are also adaptable - a sign that they may well go all the way again.

"It was just a great effort, with great character from the guys, fighting and keeping Province out, there was a lot of heart in it," Lions coach Johan Ackermann said of a rare win in Cape Town.

"We have tried to change it a bit, we recognise that when there is opportunity to run, but conditions on the weekend we could have kicked more, the ball was slippery and you don't want to take that risk always in you own half.

"Obviously it is better to keep the ball and look after the ball than hope that if you kick it, it is a good kick so we tried to balance it out and it was probably one of our better games on the weekend."

While the free-spirited Lions still prefer a ball-in-hand game, now mix it up better than they have all year. They have come to the realisation that the all-out attacking game they put on display in Super Rugby may entertain, but more often than not also puts them under pressure.

The key to the more balanced approach is veteran Springbok flyhalf Butch James.

"He has been around the block and he has been in every situation," Ackermann said, adding: "Obviously Butch will make the odd mistake but the calmness he brings to the players around him and the experience is just awesome to have and I think it will be good for us in the coming weeks.

"He gives us that calmness and direction so it is great to know we have got a guy like that while Elton [Jantjies] is with the Boks."

Griquas coach Pote Human acknowledged the importance of discipline if his team is to upset the table-topping Lions again, but added that his team may have been on the wrong end of a few tough calls - after seeing two players yellow-carded in the loss to the Cheetahs last week.

Utility back Willie le Roux was sent to the bin in the 22nd minute and centre JP Nel spent the last 10 minutes of the match on the sideline.

Human described it as "just one of those things" and not a major concern for his team.

"The first was a professional foul, Willie le Roux did not retire 10 metres and we accept that," he said, adding: "The yellow card of JP [Nel] was a bit unfair, I don't  think it was dangerous. The player was tackled low and JP attack the ball, when his arm slipped up ... I feel he was rather unfortunate."

The Griquas coach said his team conceded very few penalties in the game and he is happy that their discipline was not a problem.

"Discipline is very important for me and the entire squad.

"We realise that if we want to have any success [in the competition], our discipline will have to be spot on."

While the Kimberley men have been impressive in the set pieces this year, they are up against one of the competition's most competitive packs.

"The Lions do have the best scrum in the Currie Cup competition," Human said, adding: "That will be a big challenge for us. They also impressed in the line-outs against WP [last week], so it will be crucial that we win our own ball."

Results this year:

For Griquas:
Free State Cheetahs 35-20 Griquas
Western Province 45-21 Griquas
Griquas 49-34 Blue Bulls
Griquas 22-15 Sharks
Golden Lions 32-42 Griquas
Griquas 16-29 Free State Cheetahs
Griquas 20-25 Western Province
Blue Bulls 35-20 Griquas

For the Golden Lions:
Western Province 9-22 Golden Lions
Golden Lions 28-22 Sharks
Free State Cheetahs 23-38 Golden Lions
Blue Bulls 23-32 Golden Lions
Golden Lions 32-42 Griquas
Golden Lions 26-23 Western Province
Sharks 30-14 Golden Lions
Golden Lions 43-20 Free State Cheetahs

Prediction: It will be a huge upset if Griquas win. Then again, it was a huge surprise when they won last month. That is the beauty of the game - anything can happen. However, the Lions seemed to have found their championship form and should take a full five points away from Kimberley. The Lions to win by 10 to 15 points.

Teams:

Griquas: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jannie Boshoff, 13 Jean Stemmet, 12 JP Nel, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Marnus Hugo, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Rynhardt Landman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matt Dobson, 17 Ivann Espag, 18 Edwin Hewitt, 19 Jaco Nepgen, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Walter Venter.

Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Deon Van Rensburg, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Butch James, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco Van der Merwe, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse Van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Derick Minnie, 20 Guy Cronje, 21 Dylan Des Fountain, 22 James Kamana.

Referee: Mark Lawrence
Assistants: Marius van der Westhuizen, Francois de Bruin
TMO: Deon van Blommenstein

Free State Cheetahs v Sharks
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 19.15; 17.10 GMT)

 The Sharks, currently in second spot on the standings, know they need to keep on winning if they are to get home ground advantage - which will be vital for any team hoping to take the Currie Cup trophy off the Lions.
 
"When we sat down last week - with three games remaining - we felt that if we could win all three, we'd probably be there or thereabouts," Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford said.

"The Lions beat Province on the weekend and they have to play Griquas and the Bulls in their remaining two games, so they have an interesting two weeks ahead of them.

"For us, it's about making sure we do whatever we can to ensure victory in those final two games."

The Cheetahs are in the same boat - they simply have to keep on winning to ensure they don't drop out of the top four.

To add spice to an already intriguing game, the Cheetahs have been somewhat of a bogey team for the Sharks in the Currie Cup.

"We know we've come unstuck against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in the past," the Sharks' other assistant coach, Hugh Reece-Edwards, said.

"However, we've also learnt how to get a winning result there in recent times. It's a massive game for both sides and it should be a great clash."
 
Like all crunch games, the basics are vital and the Cheetahs believe they have made enough progress in recent weeks to pose a real threat to the high-flying Sharks.

"This past weekend, against Griquas, our attack from set pieces were much better than in previous weeks," Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie said.

"Our scrums were very good and we could attack, effectively, with our backline from scrums.

"We broke Griquas' lime three times from scrums and once from a line-out - in total we made 13 line-breaks, which is the most this entire year for us."

Fourie said the men from Bloemfontein have worked hard on getting their basics up to the required standards and ensure they become more "consistent".

He also hinted that the fourth-placed Cheetahs owe the Sharks a good measure of revenge.

"We are in this situation [desperately struggling to remain in the play-off race] because we lost that game in Durban, after we had it in the bag already," he said of a match in which the Cheetahs held a 15-point (21-6) lead at half-time and were 16 points (29-13) up going into the final quarter.

A late rally by the Sharks saw them sneak a fortuitous 34-32 win.

"We scored a few soft tries in that game, but the Sharks all too often get soft points against us as well," Fourie said.

"That is a game we should have won and we must make amends for that on Saturday."

He added that Sharks - like the table-topping Lions - have showed an ability to be adaptable and overcome almost any obstacle.

"The [monsoon-like] weather the last two weeks certainly did not suit their style of play, but they did very well to get two wins out of those games and we face a huge challenge."

Results this year:

For the Free State Cheetahs:
Free State Cheetahs 35-20 Griquas
Blue Bulls 34-30 Free State Cheetahs
Free State Cheetahs 23-38 Golden Lions
Free State Cheetahs 22-29 Western Province
Sharks 34-32 Free State Cheetahs
Griquas 16-29 Free State Cheetahs
Free State Cheetahs 32-18 Blue Bulls
Golden Lions 43-20 Free State Cheetahs

For the Sharks:
Sharks 13-12 Blue Bulls
Golden Lions 28-22 Sharks
Sharks 43-27 Western Province
Griquas 22-15 Sharks
Sharks 34-32 Free State Cheetahs
Blue Bulls 42-31 Sharks
Sharks 30-14 Golden Lions
Western Province 23-25 Sharks

Prediction: The Cheetahs have the talent, but lack the consistency. The Sharks have the temperament to deal with the pressure that starts mounting at this stage of the season. It will be a close call again, with the Sharks sneaking another win - again by less than 10 points.

Teams:

Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn (captain), 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Phillip van der Walt, 7 Francois Uys, 6 Pieter Labuschagne, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 AJ Le Roux, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Tewis du Bruyn, 21 Phillip Snyman, 22 Phillip Burger.

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Meyer Bosman, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7. Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Jandré Marais, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Tera Mtembu, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Riaan Viljoen, 22 S'bura Sithole.

Referee: Jason Jaftha
Assistants: Joey Salmans, Marc van Zyl
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee

RELATED ARTICLES