Old rivalries are back again as Western Province host their arch-rivals the Blue Bulls in the second semi-final of the 2009 Currie Cup
Games simply don’t come any bigger than this, certainly not in South African terms. It is the ultimate, and original, north-south derby – Western Province against the Blue Bulls.
They are the two most successful teams on the domestic landscape. Between them they have won the Currie Cup 54 times. All the other teams together have won it just 24 times.
WP have won 32 Currie Cup titles, the Bulls 22. All 22 the Bulls’ victories have been since 1939. In that same period Province have won 11.
While most coaches will discard these as insignificant, they have value in that it proves just how big this game is.
It is the ultimate showdown between traditional rivals that never give or take an inch.
They have been this successful, because they have an insatiable hunger for success.
Province coach Allister Coetzee put it in a nutshell when he said: “The guys are so hungry to be part of this big thing, we want this Currie Cup and write our own stories and create our own memories.”
That is what it is all about. Making history, by playing in a Currie Cup Final.
Very few get to enjoy the privilege and those who do often get only one shot.
To get into the Final a team must earn the right by showing you have those championship qualities.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said these play-off matches are always about “making the correct decisions at critical stages”.
And the Bulls, certainly the current herd, have been in enough semifinals and finals in recent years to know exactly what it takes.
“It is about knowing how to convert the opportunities you create and put points on the board,” Ludeke said, adding: “You have limited opportunities and you need to know how to convert them under pressure.”
The WP coach, Coetzee, said playing the Bulls at Newlands is a dream come true.
He described it as “the hunger of the fifteen against very talented individuals”.
“It’s something new for us as a group [playing in a play-off],” Coetzee said about facing a Bulls team that has won two Super 14 titles and has won four Currie Cup titles since 2002.
“It – facing the Bulls at Newlands – is something we planned and dreamt about.
“It’s not about how much experience you have, but about the hunger of the opposition and that’s the side that will come out on top.”
He admitted that the visitors are talented and very experienced.
“They are rated as probably the best franchise in the world,” Coetzee said, adding: “We respect them, but we don’t fear them. For us it is a great challenge and if we beat them we would have beaten the best team in the world.”
Coetzee said he did not expect the Bulls to produce anything different from that which has delivered a host of titles to Pretoria in the past seven years.
“Their thing is execution above innovation.
“They won’t change a lot. They’ve been doing the same thing for the past few years.”
Ludeke, in turn, said his team is ready for anything Province will throw at them on Saturday.
“We need to play for the full 80 minutes and we must continue to create try scoring opportunities. We also need to protect our possession better than in the previous two games.
“It is not without reason that Province almost finished on top of the log. They have been playing quality rugby throughout the season and I expect them to follow a very tactical approach against us.”
Players to watch:
For Western Province: For excitement you will look at the attacking prowess of Joe Pietersen and Gio Aplon, the wizardry of centre Juan de Jongh and the brute force of Frikkie Welsh. Duane Vermeulen has been the WP team’s go-to forward since Chris Jack left, Francois Louw has shown fine form and we all know what Andries Bekker can do with ball in hand. There is also the physical presence of Tiaan Liebenberg.
For the Blue Bulls: They have 10 Springboks in the starting XV, all worth watching. But you will start with the finishing ability of wing Bryan Habana, who will join up with Province in a few weeks. Morné Steyn’s match-winning abilities – both on the domestic scene and international stage – is now legendary, while Fourie du Preez is probably the form player in world rugby at present. You also can’t look past the strength, speed and skill of Pierre Spies, not to forget the enforcer Bakkies Botha and the line-out king Victor Matfield.
Head to heads: The most crucial is at flyhalf – Springboks Peter Grant (Western Province) and Morné Steyn (Blue Bulls), who will give their teams direction. The battle at No.8, between Luke Watson (Western Province) and Pierre Spies (Blue Bulls) will have entertainment value as a result of Watson’s controversial statements about the heritage of some of his opponents. You also have the line-out battle between Bok teammates Andries Bekker (WP) and Victor Matfield (Bulls). Finally there is the scrum battle – an area Province dominated when the teams last met, but has since found referees to be much less sympathetic to Wicus Blaauw’s hand-on-the-ground-at-engagement tactics. It will still be worth watching when Brok Harris, Tiaan Liebenberg and Wicus Blaauw face off against Werner Kruger, Derick Kuün and Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Most recent head-to-head Currie Cup results:
2009: Blue Bulls won 30-22, Pretoria
2009: Western Province won 25-19, Cape Town
2008: Blue Bulls won 37-6, Pretoria
2008: Western Province won 26-17, Cape Town
2007: Blue Bulls won 35-10, Pretoria
2007: Blue Bulls won 26-17, Cape Town
Road to the play-offs:
Beat the Sharks 29-15
Lost to the Blue Bulls 22-30
Beat the Cheetahs 19-13
Beat the Leopards 48-7
Lost to Griquas 32-33
Beat Boland 38-7
Beat the Lions 25-20
Beat the Sharks 21-9
Beat the Blue Bulls 25-19
Lost to the Cheetahs 31-33
Beat the Leopards 37-7
Beat Griquas 43-3
Beat Boland 50-7
Lost to the Lions 25-27
Beat the Lions 19-13
Beat Western Province 30-22
Lost to the Sharks 13-19
Beat Boland 50-18
Lost to the 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 Boland 72-16
Beat the Cheetahs 30-27
Beat Griquas 61-27
Beat the Leopards 61-24
rugby365 Prediction: These games are never easy to call and they often do go down to the wire – with no more than a single score in the final result. They are often also classics, brutal confrontations in which tempers tend to become frayed. On paper the Bulls certainly have a championship team. But there is something special about this Province side. Maybe it is that hunger that they are talking about. And play-offs are often won or lost on inches won by the team that wants it more. We feel the Bulls not only have the class and experience, but they will find the hunger that will secure them a narrow win – by about 10 points.
Western Province: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Paul Bosch, 11 Frikkie Welsh, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenhage, 8 Luke Watson (captain), 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Anton van Zyl, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 JC Kritzinger, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Matt To’omua, 22 Sireli Naqelevuki.
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