You will have to go a long way to find a rugby match, in fact any sporting event in South Africa, that can claim such a disproportionate share of the spotlight.
Jan de Koning – Rugby365.com
Not many Test matches were sold out this year and that included those against the Springboks’ arch rivals, the All Blacks.
The Currie Cup Final was sold out within an hour of tickets going up for public sale.
It remains one of the biggest events on the calendar and Loftus Versfeld on Saturday will be awash with fervent blue-clad, flag-waving fans … with only splatterings of the Free State Cheetahs’ orange to be seen.
Add to that a host of Springboks from the all-conquering South African national team – 10 of those in the Blue Bulls matchday 22 – and it is easy to see why this game has been billed as a ‘test’ match.
It will be a true test of the players’ ability to cope under the most intense pressure.
As Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said: “Finals are about pressure.”
Ludeke, who already tasted success by winning the Super 14 with the Bulls earlier this year, will be hoping to become only the second South African coach to win a Super Rugby title and Currie Cup crown in one year.
The first was Kitch Christie, who saw his Transvaal (now Golden Lions) team make a clean sweep in 1993 – Super 10, Currie Cup, Night Series and Lion Cup.
Ludeke’s task is perhaps a lot more complicated, as the game has moved on considerably in the 16 years since. For starters, it is now a professional sport, a full-time occupation.
The Bulls mentor spoke of the need for the players to continue to back their teammates, and “keep it up for 80 minutes.”
Most pundits this week also spoke of the importance of the set pieces.
And that is certainly one aspect of the Cheetahs’ game that will give the Bulls a few sleepless nights.
“The whole season their set pieces were good – they have a very good, solid pack of forwards,” Ludeke told rugby365.
But the Cheetahs are by no means a one-dimensional team.
“From broken play they are also very dangerous, they are good at getting the ball into space and put the opposition under pressure, while they are obviously also very good at the breakdown,” Ludeke said.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské was also in a complimentary mood this week when quizzed about the Bulls.
Even though most pundits believe the Cheetahs’ front row could be their trump card, Drotské is not convince the scrums are a safe bet for the Cheetahs to win.
“The Bulls showed in the semifinal against Western Province they can scrum,” Drotské told rugby365.
“However, the last five years we have targeted other teams’ set pieces – their scrums and line-outs.
“We will certainly continue doing that – even if they have Victor Matfield, we will still target their line-out.
“That is something that is part of our game plan every week.”
Other experts also agree that the game could develop into a brutal forward battle.
Springbok forwards Juan Smith (Free State Cheetahs) and Chiliboy Ralepelle (Blue Bulls), who will both miss the Final due to injury, told a media gathering on Thursday that the two packs will decide the outcome.
“If we [Free State Cheetahs] are not physical enough up front we could have serious problems,” Smith told the media gathering in Johannesburg.
“We have to match them in set pieces and have to make sure we don’t concede unnecessary penalties. The team that makes the most mistakes will come up short.
“In a Final, teams are very closely matched and the game is not actually flashy. It’s about playing winning rugby, because the scoreboard is all that counts.”
Ralepelle agreed with Smith and added: “We really worked hard on our scrums this week as this battle will be won up front,” he said.
“We know we have to set a good platform up front for the backs to get some good attacking ball and guys like Pierre Spies to shine from the back. Finals are always very close games.
“The Cheetahs have Jaques Potgieter and we have Morné Steyn, so I believe it will be a big battle between the two, especially if the teams give away easy penalties.”
Players to watch:
For the Blue Bulls: He has been a match-winner all year and the Blue Bulls’ mercurial flyhalf Morné Steyn will again be in the spotlight. Then there is Bryan Habana, in his last game in the light blue jersey, before he moves south to Cape Town. Other key players for the Bulls are scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, No.8 Pierre Spies, along with locks Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield.
For the Free State Cheetahs: The game is also a last for flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter, who joins up with the Bulls next year. The Cheetahs’ trump card is another Springbok star, poacher extraordinaire Heinrich Brüssow. You will also look to the power of Lionel Mapoe on the wing, the experience of Meyer Bosman in the midfield, the brute force of Ashley Johnson and Frans Viljoen, along with the find of the season – prop WP Nel.
Head to head: You could, and probably should, list them all – 22 to one. However, the key battles are at flyhalf, Morné Steyn (Blue Bulls) against Jacques-Louis Potgieter (Free State Cheetahs), scrumhalf, where Fourie du Preez (Bulls) faces JP Joubert (cheetahs), No.8, with Pierre Spies (Bulls) up against Ashley Johnson (Cheetahs) and lock, Victor Matfield (Bulls) versus David de Villiers (Cheetahs). Then again, this would not be complete without comparing the two front rows – Werner Kruger, Derick Kuün and Gurthrö Steenkamp (Bulls) up against WP Nel, Adriaan Strauss and Wian du Preez (Cheetahs).
Most recent Currie Cup encounters:
26 Sept 09: Blue Bulls won 30-27, Pretoria
7 Aug 09: Cheetahs won 24-15, Bloemfontein
11 Oct 08: Blue Bulls won 31-19, Pretoria (semifinal)
20 Sept 08: Blue Bulls won 23-5, Bloemfontein
12 July 08: Blue Bulls won 31-23, Pretoria
Road to the Final:
Beat the Lions 19-13
Beat Western Province 30-22
Lost to the Sharks 13-19
Beat the Boland Cavaliers 50-18
Lost to the Free State Cheetahs 15-24
Beat Griquas 25-24
Beat the Leopards 44-11
Lost to the Lions 13-20
Lost to Western Province 19-25
Lost to the Sharks 23-29
Beat the Boland Cavaliers 72-16
Beat the Free State Cheetahs 30-27
Beat Griquas 61-27
Beat the Leopards 61-24
Beat Western Province 21- 19 (semifinal)
Free State Cheetahs:
Lost to Griquas 18-28
Lost to the Lions 22-31
Lost to Western Province 13-19
Lost to the Sharks 12-21
Beat the Blue Bulls 24-15
Beat the Leopards 71-17
Beat Boland Cavaliers 59-8
Beat Griquas 58-13
Beat the Lions 20-16
Beat Western Province 33-31
Lost to the Sharks 13-24
Lost to the Blue Bulls 27-30
Beat the Leopards 60-17
Beat the Boland Cavaliers 55-10
Beat the Sharks 23-21 (semifinal)
rugby365 Prediction: It will be brutal, as all finals are. It will be close, as most finals are. It may even produce a surprise result, as often happen when the Blue Bulls and Free State Cheetahs go head-to-head. But we feel that the Bulls simply have too much experience across the park and in key positions and will win a tight game. The Blue Bulls by 10 points.
Blue Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Derick Kuün, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Corné Uys, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Danwel Demas, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 JP Joubert, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Frans Viljoen, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 David de Villiers, 4 Nico Breedt, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Izak van der Westhuizen, 19 Lukas Floors, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Louis Strydom, 22 Fabian Juries.
Date: Saturday, October 31
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Predicted weather: Early showers and morning clouds, otherwise mild. High of 25°C and a low of 13°C. The win will be at about 15km/h NE and there’s about a 50 percent chance of precipitation.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistant referees: Pro Legoete, Cobus Wessels
TMO: Shaun Veldsman