So we come to the final trophy of 2009 and the players who have hogged most of the other silverware that means anything south of the equator are lining up to further burden their already overflowing cabinet.
Bet against the Vodacom Blue Bulls in Saturday’s Absa Currie Cup final against the Vodacom Free State Cheetahs in Pretoria if you must, but don’t do it too publicly. If you do, you will have your understanding of the game questioned and might even find yourself packed off to see a psychologist. After all, the core of this team has won everything in sight this year, including the Super 14 and Tri-Nations.
The Bulls started as overwhelming favourites to win the Super 14 final a couple of months ago on the basis that they had the bulk of the special players as well as an advantage in experience, and it should be the same this time. Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Pierre Spies, Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn and Bryan Habana would all be candidates to be recognised as the best players in the world in their positions.
Most of them have also won a World Cup and two Super 14 trophies, so there is no shortage of decoration. Against Western Province in the semifinal two weeks ago the question was posed whether all those factors might actually count against the Bulls in the sense that it could lead to complacency.
But that shouldn’t be a factor in this game — it is a final and it is being played at Loftus. Were this game being played in Bloemfontein, there might be some hope for the Cheetahs, who do have two potential party stoppers in the form of flanker Heinrich Brussow and a scrum that looks more impressive with every outing.
If you are looking for reasons why the Cheetahs can win, those are good ones, and so is their record in Currie Cup finals this decade. Brussow’s ball scavenging can wreck the momentum of the finest team, and the Bulls scrum has been a problem all year, even in the Super 14. That they have been able to get away with it has been chiefly due to their massive dominance in most other areas.
They nearly never got away with it against WP, who matched the Bulls in the lineouts, shaded them in the scrums and dominated them at the breakdown. It would be a surprise if the Cheetahs did not lean heavily on the same template relied on by WP, and they would have noted that at Newlands the Bulls were made to look ordinary.
So the Cheetahs do have hope, they do have a chance and to say it is the Bulls lineout and kicking game against the Cheetahs scrum and Brussow is probably not an over-simplification. There also has to be a reason why they are the only team to have beaten the Bulls in a final this decade, and why they have had their names on the trophy three times since 2005.
But what WP were unable to overcome is a man who has been pretty untouchable as a match-winner all year. Where the Cheetahs nearly fell flat against the Sharks in the semis because of missed goalkicks in the first half, the Bulls have a metronome in the form of Morne Steyn, a man who kicks them over from all distances and angles regardless of the pressure.
Many times recently coaches have pointed out that their team was the one that played the most constructive rugby, but on almost every occasion such utterances have come after a defeat. Invariably they have come after losses to either the Bulls or the Springboks. Steyn has been involved almost every time.
Both those teams apply a similar pattern, both of them are capable of winning without playing much rugby. That is what you need to be able to do in the tense, pressure-charged atmosphere of a final, and it is why the smart money just has to be on the Bulls winning their first outright Currie Cup title since 2004.
Vodacom Blue Bulls: Zane Kirchner, Francois Hougaard, Jaco Pretorius, Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield (capt), Bakkies Botha, Werner Kruger, Derick Kuun, Gurthro Steenkamp. Reserves: Bandise Maku, Rossouw de Klerk, Danie Rossouw, Pedrie Wannenburg, Heini Adams, Burton Francis, Gerhard van den Heever.
Vodacom Free State Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller, Lionel Mapoe, Corné Uys, Meyer Bosman, Danwel Demas, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, JP Joubert, Ashley Johnson, Frans Viljoen, Heinrich Brüssow, David de Villiers, Nico Breedt, WP Nel, Adriaan Strauss (c), Wian du Preez. Reserves: Richardt Strauss, Coenie Oosthuizen, Izak van der Westhuizen, Kabamba Floors, Tewis de Bruyn, Louis Strydom, Fabian Juries.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan.
Prediction: Bulls by 7 to 15.