Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies and examines the key head-to-head battles of Saturday’s Currie Cup final between the Cheetahs and the Pumas in Bloemfontein.
Conraad van Vuuren v Corne Fourie
This battle won’t make the headlines but is crucial nonetheless, especially after what transpired in the semi-finals.
Van Vuuren had a day to forget. He was shaky in the scrums and conceded a yellow card in the first quarter. As a red card risk, he was plucked off well before halftime after giving away a penalty soon after serving his 10 minutes and would’ve sat out for the remainder of the game had his replacement, Hencus van Wyk, not sustained a nasty head knock.
With Schalk Ferreira also suffering a head/neck injury, the Cheetahs will likely be without two of their powerhouse props and it’ll be up to Van Vuuren, in particular, to step up and anchor the scrum.
Fourie, meanwhile, had a semi-final to savour, showing good awareness to pounce on a loose ball and score the opening try early on. Comfortable at hooker as well, he’s not a feared scrummager but he, like the Pumas pack as a whole, will smell blood in the water.
Victor Sekekete v Shane Kirkwood
The captains’ clash is one to look forward to. Both men have been pillars of strength with their calm leadership and lineout generalship and are one match away from joining the list of legends who captained their teams to Currie Cup glory.
Sekekete’s the better athlete. Agile in the air and mobile on the ground, his output is often more that of a loose forward than a lock. He’s grown in leaps and bounds as a player and a captain over the last two seasons and will aim to outwork and outsmart his rival.
Kirkwood’s a beefy bruiser by comparison. Tipping the scales at 120kg, he has 19 kilos on the Cheetahs captain and uses his size and muscle to good effect on the gain line. He’s a source of go-forward as a ball carrier and a brick wall on defence.
Gideon van der Merwe v Andre Fouche
The battle at the breakdown will be fiercely contested across the board but these two carry the most responsibility in terms of preserving and pilfering ball.
Van der Merwe, by all accounts, has the inside track. The former Griquas ace is an out-an-out fetcher, a bloodhound who’s adept at finding the fastest path to the pill and once latched on, stands as an immovable object.
Fouche’s a more rounded back-rower whose value is in his overall contribution. He’s a silent assassin, an unheralded workhorse who plays his heart out.
At his core, he’s a fierce competitor, which has enabled him to successfully put more importance on one aspect of his game than the rest when need be, which is what he’ll have to do on Saturday to slow the Cheetahs down at the source.
Ruan Pienaar v Thinus de Beer
The battle of the No 10s promises to be a treat. Both men played leading roles in their team’s semi-final triumphs, Pienaar racking up 22 points in the 39-10 battering of the Bulls and De Beer marshalling the men from Nelspruit in their 26-20 victory over the Sharks in Durban.
As good as Siya Masuku was at Loftus Versfeld in the last round of the regular season to help secure top spot on the log, the Cheetahs are a different team with Pienaar as the pilot.
His world of experience is something that cannot be bought and has proved invaluable, particularly over the last month or so in which he switched from scrumhalf to flyhalf and took a struggling team to a home final.
De Beer’s run the show brilliantly for the Pumas all season, guiding them to highs and getting them out of lows along the way to a second successive final.
He has more x-factor as a playmaker whereas Pienaar’s the more accurate and dependable goal-kicker, which could prove decisive in what will possibly be the 39-year-old Springbok legend’s last game.
Tapiwa Mafura v Devon Williams
Fittingly, the tournament’s two best fullbacks face off in the final.
Like Pienaar and De Beer, they both produced stellar semi-final showings, Mafura making his mark with an all-around exhibition of fullback play that included a well-taken try and Williams showcasing his underrated tactical-kicking prowess to beat the Sharks at their own game.
Red-hot players who share an attacking mindset, this should be a fascinating showdown. Both are capable of breaking a game open with a moment of magic and are rock solid with their positional play, so it could be a matter of decision-making and, more importantly, composure, that determines the winner of this contest.