Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies and examines the key head-to-head battles of Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-finals in Bloemfontein and Durban.
CHEETAHS V BULLS
Gideon van der Merwe v Marcell Coetzee
After getting acquainted with one another at Loftus Versfeld last weekend, the two fire-breathing flankers run it back. There was no feeling out process between these two, which wasn’t surprising given they’re all about nonstop action, and we can expect them to ramp it up even more in the rematch.
The breakdown battle is crucial to the flow of the game and determining which team dictate the pace. Van der Merwe is vital for the Free Staters in this regard. An out-an-out fetcher, he struck with an early turnover that set the tone for last weekend’s tie and managed another on the 30-minute mark.
Coetzee is the more decorated and complete loose forward. While equally adept in all three back-row roles, it was Jake White who converted Coetzee from an eighthman to openside flanker in their days at the Sharks. A natural, he quickly mastered the art of poaching while continuing to wreak havoc with his powerful carries.
As a man who leads by example, the Bulls captain will be a central figure and it’ll be up to Van der Merwe to contain him and beat him to the proverbial punch in the race to the pill.
Ruan Pienaar/Siya Masuku v Chris Smith/Johan Goosen
Hawies Fourie has a pivotal selection poser on his hands at flyhalf. Ruan Pienaar had shifted from scrumhalf to No 10 to correct course after the Cheetahs lost their way a bit but with the Springbok legend unavailable for last weekend’s fixture due to a family bereavement, Masuku stepped up and played a starring role, scoring 16 points, including an excellent individual try.
Pienaar’s the vastly experienced tactical general, whereas Masuku’s a mercurial talent who can break a game open, however, he hasn’t been as consistent as he’d like to be. They could also be employed in tandem, which would mean Rewan Kruger drops to the bench, so it’ll be interesting to see how Fourie plays it.
After his less-than-stellar Loftus swansong, Morne Steyn will probably revert to the pine with Chris Smith taking over the No 10 jersey. Johan Goosen’s another option but battled to marshall the troops at No 10 in his most recent run and I expect him to remain at fullback.
Having sat under the learning tree of two Springboks, Smith’s grown into a solid starter. He’s a predictable but dependable pivot, in other words, probably White’s safest bet at the moment.
SHARKS V PUMAS
Sikhumbuzo Notshe v Kwanda Dimaza
Explosive back-rowers are on a collision course at Kings Park.
Notshe’s the established star, a former Springbok who enjoyed an excellent United Rugby Championship season and is eager to use the Currie Cup playoffs as a platform to show the national selectors why they shouldn’t forget about him.
Dimaza’s a rough diamond. A rookie on the rise, he’s been a revelation for the defending champion Pumas this season and is coming off a terrific performance in the 27-17 win over Griquas last weekend.
So impressive with his physicality and dynamism, he tirelessly blasts into contact, is commanding under the high ball and has a knack for producing key plays at crucial times.
Curwin Bosch/Lionel Cronje v Tinus de Beer
Joey Mongalo has a huge task on his hands on the selection front after his overhauling of the team blew up in his face last weekend.
Bosch was at the heart of the Sharks’ Cape Town horror show, bombing badly at flyhalf. Way off the mark with his tactical kicking, he succeeded only in feeding the monster that was Western Province.
Lionel Cronje, who’s donned the No 10 jersey for most of the season, hasn’t set the world alight but with him in the saddle, the Durbanites went on a seven-match winning streak, so there’s an outside chance he might be recalled.
De Beer, in contrast, has been consistency personified. A complete pivot, he’s piloted the Pumas with aplomb and much of their hopes of reaching a second successive final rest on De Beer’s shoulders.