JOHANNESBURG – The Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions face off in Bloemfontein today (5pm kick-off) in the final of the 81st edition of the Currie Cup.
Both teams are packed with game-breakers and match-winners, but rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen believes these six men will play crucial and potentially match-defining roles for their teams this evening.
For the Cheetahs
The 28-year-old fullback returned to Cheetahs colours at the start of this year’s Currie Cup after being axed by Welsh club, Scarlets, and it’s as if he was never away. A somewhat unconventional player, Blommetjies has sparked plenty of the Cheetahs’ attacking play in recent weeks and he’ll be a key figure in the final. Quick and elusive, he’ll always look to run first, before putting boot to ball, and the Lions will have to keep a close eye on him.
Having got up to the fitness standards required at this level, the veteran 35-year-old scrumhalf was at his commanding best in last week’s semi-final win over the Sharks. Pienaar has always been, and remains, a class act and not in his wildest dreams at the start of this year would he have thought he would now be one win away from winning the Currie Cup. A smart kicker, swift distributor and dangerous runner, he’ll play a big part, one way or the other, in the final.
One gets the sense if the World Cup was being held next year, and not in the next few weeks, the powerful hooker would be one of the first names on the Springbok squad list. His powerful displays over the last two years have got Bok written all over them and he’s sure to be fired up today. He’s not only a strong ball-carrier and hard tackler, but a man who also gets stuck in at ruck-time.
For the Lions
The fullback dynamo has enjoyed a wonderful campaign, with his solo effort in scoring the winning try against Western Province the big highlight. But he’s shown each week just how dangerous he can be with ball in hand. He’s a player who loves taking on the opposition, fears nothing and backs himself to make an impact every time he touches the ball. He’ll hope to cause plenty of havoc in the Cheetahs defence in a game that should allow for lots of running.
The 21-year-old centre hasn’t quite set the competition alight like he would have hoped, but he’s done enough to ensure the Cheetahs will want to do everything they can to keep him in check. He’ll slip through the smallest of gaps and round anyone who’s off balance or out of position, and with nothing holding him back he’ll have a full go. Defensively though this will be a big test for the highly-rated rookie centre.
If there’s one man playing today who cares little for his health and physical well-being it is the blond-haired flanker, Schoeman. The 30-year-old is perhaps not as physical or as dominant as the former Bok Schalk Burger but he’s as busy and involved as the legendary No 6 and he’ll be keen to make a big impact in the final. Schoeman’s work-rate, especially off the ball, is phenomenal and if he has a blinder, then 2019 could be the Lions’ year.