by Len Kaplan
I told people last week that I thought the Sharks would win the Currie Cup Final, but since most of the people to whom I said that were Western Province supporters, I was told repeatedly that I had it completely wrong and Western Province would win at a canter.
“Do you really think the Sharks will win at Newlands?” they asked incredulously. Yes, I replied each time, because they would be tactically more astute.
Remember the Reds playing similarly to beat the Stormers at Newlands? Chip-kicks behind the defence to make them turn around, get the defending scrumhalf trapped between sweeping on defence and guarding blindside, win the ball in the air from your aerial assault, chase those chips and high balls in numbers, flood the breakdown with ferocious physicality, play little or no rugby in your half, control territory, constantly challenge the opponents’ line-out ascendancy, pressurise the opposition’s exit strategy execution, pin them down behind the advantage line, use rush defence judiciously to stop attacks before they get going. And that’s just a brief summary of the obvious.
10 things we learned from the Currie Cup Final weekend
• Pat Lambie is too skilful a rugby player to be relegated to the Springbok bench. If Heyneke Meyer believes Morné Steyn’s goal-kicking boot is essential to the Bok Test team, Lambie should start at fullback.
• Pieter-Steph du Toit is ready right now to be the Bok number five lock. With Andries Bekker in Japan, the Boks cannot select a better lock pair than Du Toit and Eben Etzebeth. They could play for South Africa at the next three World Cup tournaments.
• Charl McLeod’s superlative performance proved that he should be on the Springboks November tour as back-up scrumhalf. Ruan Pienaar will be there but Fourie du Preez’s availability is uncertain. A personal view is that McLeod, Louis Schreuder, Nic Groom, Sarel Pretorius and Cobus Reinach are all better than France-based Jano Vermaak and Cheetahs second-string Piet van Zyl.
• François Steyn’s 72 minutes showed the truth of the old adage ‘class is permanent’. Contrary to many pundits’ first impressions after his long injury, he is indeed ready to make a Bok contribution in November.
• Brendan Venter’s turnaround job at the Sharks in his brief reign in Durban showed the enormous difference a director of coaching / head coach can make in terms of performance and individual driven team values, and strategic and tactical nous. What Venter calls a “principle-driven environment” has done wonders for the Sharks. Brad Macleod-Henderson and Sean Everitt have done a superb job too.
• The Currie Cup benefits enormously from having Springboks return to their provinces at the end of the Rugby Championship. In contrast, New Zealand’s NPC Premiership final in Wellington benefitted not at all from having no top-line All Blacks playing.
• Jonathan Kaplan retires as a professional referee having earned the gratitude of players, coaches and fans around the world. His composure and accuracy during the 80 minutes of the Final, on what must have been the most emotional day of his life, was remarkable – a testament to special man who has earned the respect of players and coaches for his exemplary excellence and consummate professionalism.
• The Western Province under 21 team were way ahead on the points table at the end of the round robin fixtures and deservedly won the Final against a Blue Bulls team which included a Springbok and a strong injection of players who had gained Currie Cup experience this year. Coaches John Dobson and Dawie Snyman certainly run a good show, bringing the best out of their players, on and off the field.
• The Pumas earned their promotion to the Currie Cup Premier Division with a performance based on great commitment by the entire squad and meticulous coaching by Jimmy Stonehouse. We said two weeks ago that Coenie van Wyk and Stefan Watermeyer deserve Super Rugby contracts. Add scrumhalf François de Klerk to that.
Player of the Final:
There were a number of standout performances in a magnificent Sharks team, among the best of whom were Pat Lambie,
Louis Ludik, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Willem Alberts and Bismarck du Plessis, but the key player in executing their tactically astute game-plan was Charl McLeod. His scrumhalf performance was masterful.
Quote of the Week:
“The Sharks…were outstanding. Everything went their way. Tactically they were better and they had worked out our defence system. Their suffocate-and-strangle policy worked by rushing us and trapping us behind the gain-line and flooding the breakdown. That actually caught us unawares.”
– WP head coach Allister Coetzee