Stage set for Brussow
There is one man who has a firmer grip on the key to how the Absa Currie Cup log might look at the end of this weekend’s round of matches than any other, and he just happens to be the most significant absentee from the Springbok team thus far in 2012.
When new national coach Heyneke Meyer left Heinrich Brussow out of his squad for his first series against England it was not completely unexpected for he had hinted that he was going to jettison a player he felt lacked size and just gave away too many penalties. It nonetheless elicited howls of protest, and the indignation has not been lessened by the Bok performances, with the breakdown being a particular area of contention.
The Boks suffered because of the lack of a clearly defined fetcher in the drawn test against England in Port Elizabeth, where Marcell Coetzee, because of the absence of his Sharks teammate Willem Alberts and the poor performance of newcomer Jacques Potgieter, found himself neglecting the scavenging duties because he was needed as a carrier.
It was felt after that game that the penny would drop for Meyer, particularly as he spoke afterwards about the pedestrian rate at which the ball came back from the recycles as one of the stumbling blocks to his team hitting their straps. However, Brussow was injured when the squad selection for the Argentina leg of the Castle Rugby Championship was made, so we were left none the wiser as to whether Meyer intended recalling him or not.
The SOS sent to Bath-based Francois Louw sent out a positive message subsequent to the draw in Mendoza against Argentina. Those who feel that Keegan Daniel did not fire when he played for the Boks need to recognise that he was not deployed in the role that he performs with the Sharks and which presumably got him selected in the first place.
Regardless, while it may have taken five games for Meyer to realise it, there could still be a place for Brussow in the Bok set-up now that he has recovered from injury, and he is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of Western Province’s quest for the consistency that most teams have lacked so far in this shortened Currie Cup season.
Brussow has in the past been an almost one-man show in winning games for the Cheetahs, and he could well be again on Saturday as he faces down WP captain Deon Fourie, who says he still considers himself more of a hooker than a flank, in a battle that could determine the result of the late Saturday game in Bloemfontein.
WP were outstanding last week in dispatching the Bulls, but coach Allister Coetzee would not have been pleased to see Brussow back in the Cheetahs mix. He knows that experience, among other things, is one of the factors that has determined that so far the visiting teams have tended to struggle in the domestic competition.
The Cheetahs will be smarting after having such a great effort against the Sharks in Durban last week thwarted in the dying minutes of the game, and certainly have the ability to halt the momentum Province picked up a week ago. Indeed, with Brussow back and at home, they should start the match as clear favourites.
The earlier match in Pretoria between the Blue Bulls and the Golden Lions is less easy to call. The Bulls were excellent the last time they played in front of the Loftus faithful, but what impact would their big defeat in Cape Town have had? And the Lions, so good against WP two weeks ago, were pretty woeful last week against Griquas.
So the question to be asked ahead of the Guateng derby revolves around which team will pitch? Both of them failed to pitch seven days ago. At home the Bulls should be favoured, but the Lions, when they get it together, are good enough to beat them.
And then we come to the early game in Kimberley, where the Sharks will arrive knowing they are visiting a venue that is fast becoming their hoodoo ground after a big defeat there last year and a narrow one the year before. If the Sharks play as poorly as they did in the first half last week against the Cheetahs or for most of the game against the Bulls they could well lose to a Griquas side that is returning home confident after the upset win over the Lions.
My money says though that the Sharks will be determined to end the first round on a winning note and won’t slip on the banana skin that they encountered on the last few trips to the diamond capital.
WEEKEND FIXTURES (all Saturday afternoon)
GWK Griquas v Sharks, Kimberley 3pm
Vodacom Blue Bulls v MTN Golden Lions, Pretoria 5.05pm
Toyota Free State Cheetahs v DHL Western Province, Bloemfontein 7:10pm