Saturday’s Currie Cup final between the Bulls and the Sharks will be a game decided on intelligence, more so than passion, writes James Dalton.
The Sharks’ Curwin Bosch is the leading points scorer in the competition, and was clinical in doing what Western Province refused to do last week by keeping the scoreboard ticking with penalties. But opposite Bosch come Saturday is veteran Bulls and Springbok flyhalf Morne Steyn, in the form of his life, who holds an 81% kicking average over his entire career. At altitude this weekend, the Currie Cup final will be characterised by a battle of the flyhalves, and won by the team whose general best manages the game from a tactical kicking perspective, and is most accurate with the boot.
Usually the notion is that forwards win you games, especially in high pressure contests like a final, by laying the foundation on which the backs can gain ascendancy. However the way in which the forwards must lay the foundation this Saturday is through discipline at the breakdown, rather than brute force around the field. This is not to say that physical dominance is not important, but with two equally matched sets of forwards, the key will be which pack is able to concede fewer penalties and remain more disciplined, as both sides flyhalves will be intent on adding three points from anywhere on the field.
As mentioned earlier, Western Province’s refusal to take the points cost them hugely in the semi-finals. With six kickable penalties, Province instead continued to kick to the corner and have their lineout negated by a Sharks pack with a brilliant set piece. Equally, without Kitshoff, Province were nullified at scrum time and essentially beaten at their own game by the Sharks in what was a loose and scrappy game.
The Bulls, with their strong pack and direct approach, will not be as predictable on Saturday as Western Province were, and equally neither will the Sharks who have shown to be a multi-dimensional side capable of a strong set piece and kicking game, and with perhaps the most skilful backs in the competition. What will also make a huge difference is that both sides have, in Duane Vermeulen and Lukhanyo Am, the leadership that was very evidently lacking in the Western Province set up with Kitshoff injured and Kolisi seemingly incognito.
Both captains, who have led from the front throughout the competition, will be tested in their ability not only to play this weekend, but to manage their flyhalf weapons. Morne Steyn has largely dictated the flow of games with his boot and Curwin Bosch is equally capable. Saturday will be a case of who can do it better, and which side can utilise the territory and possession won by the boot. It is one thing to dominate territory and possession, it’s another thing to capitalise on it.