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Rugby | Currie Cup

Different angles to Currie Cup debate



They say that a week is a long time in rugby and this one building up to a bye weekend for the Springboks and a Currie Cup round that has suddenly become more relevant to the national cause and sparked some interesting debate has been longer than most.

It is hard to believe after all the negativity that has enveloped the Boks since their defeat to the All Blacks that this time last week we were talking about an unbeaten team and living in hope that they might push the Kiwis on their home turf and signal their intent to challenge for world supremacy.

As it turned out it only takes 80 minutes for many to change from positive to depressed and negative, or perhaps more precisely, seven minutes as it was the soft points the Kiwis scored between the 13th minute and the 20th minute that effectively killed off the game and precipitated the seismic shift in the psychology not just of the team but also many of their supporters.

As a consequence, even though a largely unchanged squad has been selected for the home Rugby Championship tests, and you do have to question whether national coach Allister Coetzee is sending out the right message to his team with that decision, there are now many who are looking at the Currie Cup for possible answers.

With Coetzee releasing Handre Pollard, among others, to play for their provincial teams, there was some angst caused by Blue Bulls coach John Mitchell’s initial decision to ignore Pollard (he is now on the bench for the Bulls’ trip to Durban because of injury to another player).

This was the diametric opposite approach to Western Province coach John Dobson’s line. Dobson selected three Springboks for Saturday’s Newlands clash with a Griquas team WP shouldn’t have too much trouble dispatching even if they selected a second string side. He explained Damian de Allende’s selection by saying that he wanted to help the national cause and the player as the centre, who was first choice at the 2015 World Cup but has been troubled by injury and form issues since, has not had much game time.

Neither coach is either wrong or right, and in Dobson’s case the choice might turn out to be more than just altruism. We don’t know at this point which players will be released from the national squad after the Championship is concluded to play in the Currie Cup, but it would be reasonable to anticipate that those who haven’t played much will be. Coetzee has been strong on that point this year.

That would mean that De Allende et al will be available for the business end of the domestic season, including the last round of pool fixtures, when WP will be heading to Durban for what could well be a must win fixture against the Sharks. Having them play against Griquas could help circumvent the very problem that the Mitchell approach was aiming to avoid – that of continuity.

Of course Mitchell is drawing on past experience when adopting his line that continuity is important, and it shouldn’t escape the attention of his critics that the team he has selected for Durban talks to that mantra – it is a long time since the Bulls have made just two changes for a match. Clearly Mitchell feels he is now arriving at the right combinations and wants them to settle.

When he won the Currie Cup with the Lions in 2011 it was with a team that had played a full season together. They beat WP and Sharks teams in the semifinal and final respectively that had recalled a phalanx of Springboks, making up the core of both teams, who had just returned from duty at the World Cup in New Zealand.

Comparing what happened there with now might not be comparing apples with apples as the Sharks and WP coaches also had to deal six years ago with players who were feeling down and anti-climactic due to the fall-out from their emotional defeat to the Wallabies in what will be remembered as the Bryce Lawrence quarterfinal in Wellington.

International players recalled to provincial duty in 2011 had not played Currie Cup all season. That is not the case with two of the national squad members selected for WP against Griquas. Wilco Louw has been a cornerstone of the Province pack for most of the domestic season and probably will be again when the play-offs and the final pool game arrives.

But it is less certain that nationally contracted players, which is what Pollard and De Allende are, will be released for the later phase of the competition. Which makes Mitchell’s approach completely understandable. His team has an important game against WP to look forward to at Loftus the week after the trip to Durban. How is it going to help his team’s chances in that game if he has to return to a pivot who missed out at Kings Park?

Ultimately it should really be left up to the coaches for they would have planned their campaigns and every decision they make has to fit into that dynamic. The Bulls can certainly help themselves hugely by winning in Durban, and we are getting to the point of the season where you might just expect a little complacency to creep into the Sharks’ game due to their big league on the log.

The team perhaps under the most pressure this weekend is the Free State Cheetahs, who host the Pumas in Bloemfontein on Friday night. A defeat will see the champions exit the top four and they will be unlikely to return. The Sharks are too far ahead to be really hurt by a Bulls defeat but their coach will nonetheless be demanding a big performance and they should win, and ditto for the hosts in the Cape Town game.

Weekend Currie Cup fixtures

Toyota Free State Cheetahs v Steval Pumas (Nelspruit, Friday 5.30pm)

Cell C Sharks v Vodacom Blue Bulls (Durban, Saturday 3pm)

DHL Western Province v Tafel Lager Griquas (Cape Town, Saturday 5.15pm)



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