10 September 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

CURRIE CUP TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT

Fresh faces made a name for themselves while experienced campaigners showed their class in what was an epic Currie Cup, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

There’s life in the Currie Cup yet. While no longer the be-all and end-all of South African rugby, the 2019 competition was the most enthralling and competitive edition in recent history and should be celebrated as a return to form. Saturday’s final reminded of the competition’s glory days with almost 40 000 fans turning up to the Toyota Stadium to watch the Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions put on a highly-entertaining high-octane show to finish the competition on a high.

All these factors made it clear that when it comes to the Currie Cup in the modern oversaturated era, less is more. The single-round format grabbed and kept fans’ attention as every match mattered. It produced memorable upsets – none bigger than the Pumas’ 27-20 win over the defending champion Sharks in Nelspruit – enabled Griquas to return to the semi-finals for the first time since 1998 (with their lack of depth not as detrimental as in past longer seasons) and thrilling action throughout.

This year’s Currie Cup unearthed new stars, polished prospects, reintroduced forgotten/overlooked players and saw big-name stars showcase their international experience. Four members of the triumphant Cheetahs, who were full value for their 31-28 win at the weekend, have been included in our Team of the Tournament, including the Player of the Tournament. Losing finalists the Lions have six representatives in the side, semi-finalists the Sharks and Griquas have two each while a Pumas standout also made the cut.

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15: Tyrone Green (Golden Lions)

What a season it’s been for the Lions livewire! Arguably the South African Breakout Player of the Year and a strong candidate for the Player of the Tournament honours, Green was lethal from the back, consistently scoring and creating tries. Special mention must be made of Clayton Blommetjies, who was on fire for the Free Staters.

14: Madosh Tambwe (Golden Lions)

Owned a piece of real estate in the end zone as the tournament’s joint-top try-scorer. Scored seven tries in all, four of which came against the Pumas, which helped the Lions snatch a 38-27 come-from-behind win. The DRC-born flyer did the basics well as well and raised his stock to such a degree that he’s been snapped up by the Sharks.

13: Wandisile Simelane (Golden Lions)

Was untameable in midfield with his potent mix of pace, footwork and creativity. Dynamic and deadly, the 2018 Junior Springbok Player of the Year made some outstanding plays – which included brilliant basketball-like offloads – and was at his absolute best when he cut Griquas to shreds in the semi-final at Ellis Park.

12: Jeremy Ward (Sharks)

Being handed the captaincy, along with Tera Mtembu, brought out the best in the former Junior Springbok skipper as he led the Sharks by example. Arguably the hardest hitter in South African rugby, he made some bone-crunching tackles and was equally impactful at 12 and 13.

11: Stean Pienaar (Golden Lions)

A prime example of a player using the Currie Cup as a platform to make a name for himself. Lightning quick, he scored some cracking tries and his workrate was top-class, chasing well and popping up across the park.

10: George Whitehead (Griquas)

The “journeyman” never looked better than he did in this year’s Currie Cup as he guided Griquas back into the semi-finals after a 21-year wait with both his leadership and educated boot. Was tactically superb and hardly missed off the tee.

9: Ruan Pienaar (Free State Cheetahs)

If rugby had a play-offs/finals MVP award like the NBA, it would surely go to Pienaar, whose Springbok class and vast experience shone through. With the veteran at scrumhalf, the Cheetahs fired on all cylinders. Steered the ship masterfully as he mixed fast distribution with excellent tactical kicking at key moments and was terrific off the tee to boot.

8: Henco Venter (Free State Cheetahs)

The Sharks-bound back-rower was the Cheetahs’ best ball-carrier, powering over the gainline time and time again. Ruthless on attack and defence, and outstanding in the final, particularly when it came to doing damage control by picking up from the back of the struggling scrum.

7: Sias Koen (Griquas)

Made a big impression as the linchpin of the Griquas loose trio. Was a consistently hard grafter, who embodied the passion that propelled the men from Kimberley back to the play-offs.

6: Marnus Schoeman (Golden Lions)

The blonde-haired Lions loose forward was a menace at the breakdown, where he won turnovers against all comers. A tireless defender as well and punched above his weight with some good runs.

5: Marvin Orie (Golden Lions)

When he wasn’t on Springbok duty, he stood head and shoulders above the rest of the tall timbers with his unmatched lineout mastery. With him in control, the lineout was a real weapon for the Lions.

4: Le Roux Roets (Pumas)

Was out to prove a point following a failed stint at the Waratahs and did exactly that upon his return to Nelspruit where he initially made a name for himself a few seasons ago. The 2m tall, 135kg lock was the muscle of the Pumas pack – a fierce enforcer.

3: Coenie Oosthuizen (Sharks)

Motivated by his love for the black and white jersey, Oosthuizen ended his Sharks career on a high with consistent world-class performances. Excellent everywhere – in the scrums, as a busy, bruising ball-carrier and a devastating defender.

2: Joseph Dweba (Free State Cheetahs) – Player of the Tournament

Was an unstoppable force, scoring a joint tournament-high seven tries, the best of the bunch coming in the semi-final against the Sharks when the colossal Cheetahs hooker ran onto a pass from Blommetjies with scary speed. For such a mountain of a man, he has a freakish fuel tank. Was strong in the set-pieces, outstanding in open play and capped an excellent season with a Man of the Match performance in the final.

1: Ox Nche (Free State Cheetahs)

South African rugby is enjoying an unrivalled boom period of mobile props and Nche is arguably the most impressive of the lot in terms of impact and output. Tireless, explosive, a bulldozing ball-carrier and a strong scrummager throughout. Also showed promising signs of his swing-prop potential when he moved to tighthead in the second half of the final.

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