A chance to build for 2013
For some teams it’s an opportunity to get over disappointments suffered during the Super Rugby season, for one it’s a chance to show growth after the Vodacom Cup, and then there is Western Province, who go into the Absa Currie Cup season this weekend facing a difficult balancing act.
WP coach Allister Coetzee’s dilemma can be couched in the following terms – use the domestic competition for what it should be, which is a vehicle to prepare for next year’s Super Rugby, or throw everything into a quest to get rid of that monkey that is now not just on his team’s back but threatening to strangle any progress being made by Cape rugby.
The monkey referred to is of course the empty Newlands trophy cabinet and the pressure that will just keep increasing until such time as the drought is broken. In recent seasons Coetzee has done well in using the domestic competition to improve his depth for Super Rugby, but when it comes to the business end, he will want his team to be in the mix so that silverware can come to Newlands.
The Currie Cup may not be as important as it used to be, but winning it will certainly take a bit of the pressure away should the Stormers again win through to a Super Rugby semifinal next year.
The WP Vodacom Cup team has already started the ball rolling to some extent by winning that trophy, and with many of the same players getting a chance in the Currie Cup, Coetzee has reason to be optimistic that his team will be competitive, even if bringing in young players is going to be the emphasis.
They face a tough one first up this weekend though, for while the Sharks have opted to rest a few players and there are also several players – more than Province – lost to Springbok commitments, Jean Deysel still captains what looks a strong side.
There is a lot of positive talk these days in Sharks country about the potential of Gouws Prinsloo, for instance, and he will relish the opportunity to show what he can do while Louis Ludik is being rested.
The Sharks are without their Springbok front row and Dale Chadwick gets a chance to pick up the experience and establish himself at a higher level that might make him better equipped to stand in for Beast if he is required to do so next year than he was in 2012.
For WP, Tyrone Holmes played one game for the Stormers in Super Rugby, but it wasn’t enough to tell us of his potential to play in that competition.
BETTER STEPPING STONE
The Currie Cup will be a better stepping stone, as indeed it will be for the likes of Don Armand, Marcel Brache and the highly promising outside centre JP du Plessis.
Many of the Sharks players have travelled around the world and back in the past few weeks, and that is sure to be a factor, but this game will be a big test of both the WP intent to make the subtle shifts that Coetzee believes is necessary – he is right in saying he won’t be looking to reinvent the wheel – as well as show the potential of the newcomers.
The Lions and Cheetahs of course are far closer to their Super Rugby lineups, but it is the Lions who are arguably under the most pressure as they start the season as domestic champions at a time when the union seems to be in a state of crisis. They may well still be in Super Rugby next year, so they need to use these next few months to build as much as any other team does, and then there is also the need to settle the management team, which is perhaps even more pressing.
The Cheetahs start as the most settled unit and as usual when the Currie Cup is played under-strength, which most of this season will be, but much will depend on how the Bulls, who start on Friday against Griquas, and WP and the Sharks continue to progress in the creation of depth.
All three unions proved at franchise level in Super Rugby these past few months that they have been getting that aspect right, with the Bulls in particular impressing with the way they absorbed the loss of key Springboks at the end of the last World Cup cycle.
WEEKEND FIXTURES (all times are CAT, SA, GMT+2)
Friday, 7pm: Vodacom Blue Bulls v GWK Griquas
Saturday, 5pm: MTN Golden Lions v Toyota Free State Cheetahs
Saturday, 7pm: DHL Western Province v Sharks