The best thing about the Cur­rie Cup fi­nal

CityPress - - Sport - Dan Retief dan.retief@city­press.co.za Follow me on Twit­ter @retief­dan

The best thing about yes­ter­day’s Cur­rie Cup fi­nal was this: it was con­tested by the two teams that played the most en­ter­pris­ing rugby dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion.

Dur­ing the league seg­ment of the tour­na­ment, Western Prov­ince fi­nally shook off the de­fen­sive shack­les that were so at odds with their tra­di­tion. And on the way to New­lands, the Lions im­pressed friend and foe with their run­ning game.

The de­cline of Prov­ince/Storm­ers into a safety-first, de­fence-minded out­fit was puzzling, given that they were blessed with so many bril­liantly gifted at­tack­ing play­ers – the likes of Bryan Ha­bana, Jean de Vil­liers, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh and Joe Pi­etersen in re­cent years.

But be­tween the Su­per Rugby tour­na­ment and the Cur­rie Cup some­thing changed, and Western Prov­ince be­gan to run the ball again.

It’s not clear whether it was the ar­rival of Gert Smal as head coach. Or was it the in­cen­di­ary at­tributes of Ch­es­lin Kolbe and Se­abelo Se­natla, or even that at­tack-minded back line coach Rob­bie Fleck fi­nally started to as­sert him­self? Or did he sim­ply have to work around the game plan? What­ever, the fact that Prov­ince have again gone in search of the try line can only be good for South African rugby.

On the other side, the tac­tics of the Lions have, in some medi­ums, been hailed as rev­o­lu­tion­ary and herald­ing a new ap­proach in South African rugby. The fact is, how­ever, that there is not much that is orig­i­nal in what hap­pened at El­lis Park. What did change, was at­ti­tude. Lions coach Jo­han Ack­er­mann has in­cul­cated a mind-set in which at­tack plays a big role, as well as a cul­ture that en­cour­ages play­ers to push the en­ve­lope, to try some­thing in­ven­tive or out of the or­di­nary.

Speak to any of the Lions and the phrase ‘if it’s on, we have a go’ will crop up in the con­ver­sa­tion.

Ack­er­mann’s method – strong fun­da­men­tals (the Lions’ dom­i­nant scrum), along with con­stant run­ning and pass­ing – can be found in man­u­als dat­ing back to the 1940s and 1950s, per­haps even ear­lier.

But what the for­mer Spring­bok lock and his as­sis­tant coach Swys de Bruin have man­aged to do is widen the hori­zons of their group of un­der­rated play­ers. They have en­cour­aged them to be­lieve that pace, pass­ing, con­stant move­ment and slick skills are the way to out­wit and out­flank big­ger and stronger teams.

They have also in­stilled an in­fec­tious joie

PhOTO: JACO MARAIS

GRIP­PING Scarra Ntubeni of Western Prov­ince hangs on in the Cur­rie Cup semi­fi­nal against the Blue Bulls at New­lands last week­end

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