Teams for Bloemfontein
Cheetahs are on the move, Bulls in the way
RIGHT, where does one start? There are several reasons why Franco Smith’s Cheetahs are hot favourites to capture the Currie Cup title today and it really would be a huge surprise if they weren’t crowned champions in Bloemfontein.
For starters, they are on home soil and in front of their own fans and we all know what a difference that makes in one- off games. They’ll feed off the crowd who are as desperate for success after a few lean years.
Furthermore, Smith’s men are a settled bunch since getting together a little over a year ago. They understand one another and haven’t been disrupted by national callups or players leaving for overseas; they’re a tight- knit team who’ve smashed everyone they’ve come up against in 2016.
Unbeaten after nine straight wins, including last weekend’s semi- final hammering of the 2015 champions, the Lions, has ensured they’re a confident lot.
There are few weaknesses in the make- up of the side picked by Smith; the set-pieces will be solid and with loose forwards Paul Schoeman and Uzair Cassiem in sensational form, the Cheetahs will be very competitive at the breakdowns and in the collisions.
But what has set them apart this year is their ability to keep the ball alive for long periods and keep asking questions of the opposition.
Their backs have been dangerous with ball in hand, almost scoring tries at will, but they’ve also added steel to their defence.
Flyhalf Niel Marais has also been spot on with his goal- kicking; so there are no weak points for the Blue Bulls to target. The Cheetahs are a team on the move.
The Bulls, meanwhile, have been written off and told they stand no chance of stopping the wrecking ball that is the Free State outfit.
But they have not taken any predictions to heart and have opted to live in their own world in the belief that they can defy the odds.
And they can do what the Bulls of 2002 and 2006 did in winning and drawing the Currie Cup final against the Lions and the Cheetahs respectively, having gone in as overwhelming underdogs.
The Bulls scrum has looked more assured in the last five games leading up to the final.
The set- piece has not only been a dominant facet of play where they are able to launch attacks but they also use it as a source of milking valuable penalties.
Gaining dominance over the Cheetahs will start at scrumtime and with strong and competent front- rankers in the starting lineup and on the bench, the Bulls will look to this area to turn the game on its head.
The lineout is another area Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen, Francois Venter (captain), Nico Lee, Raymond Rhule, Niel Marais, Shaun Venter, Niell Jordaan, Uzair Cassiem, Paul Schoeman, Reniel Hugo, Justin Basson, Johan Coetzee, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marais. Bench: Jacques du Toit, Ox Nche, Armandt Koster, Henco Venter, Tian Meyer, Fred Zeilinga, Rayno Benjamin, Conrad van Vuuren. Ulrich Beyers, Travis Ismaiel, Dries Swanepoel, Burger Odendaal, Jamba Ulengo, Tian Schoeman, Rudy Paige, Arno Botha (captain), Jannes Kirsten, Roelof Smit, Marvin Orie, Jason Jenkins, Jacobie Adriaanse, Jaco Visagie, Lizo Gqoboka. Bench: Bandise Maku, Martin Dreyer, Pierre Schoeman, Nic de Jager, Hanro Liebenberg, Piet van Zyl, Joshua Stander, Bjorn Basson. where they are unmatched this season and with the form that Marvin Orie has been in, the difficulty for opposition teams is not in trying to steal possession but in also making sure that they retain their own.
The loss of RG Snyman will be huge for the Bulls in the lineouts and with ball- carrying duties, but Jason Jenkins has shown that he has all the attributes to be effective at disrupting opposition ball while he also does the donkey’s work in the engineroom.
The game could be won or lost at the breakdown and this is where the Bulls will have an edge through the powers of openside flank Roelof Smit.
Smit, is an outand- out fetcher and his ability to get to the breakdown quickly gives him an advantage and he will be key in denying the quick ball that the Cheetahs thrive on.
Deny the Free Staters possession and they can’t play their natural running game, and this will play into the hands of the Bulls who are adept at a war of attrition and the expansive game.
The hard and direct running of Jannes Kirsten and Arno Botha will be a threat and if they can get over the advantage line at will, then they will set up outside backs Jamba Ulengo and Travis Ismaiel to wreak havoc against a defensive line that is disjointed.
The key for the Bulls will be for their defence to hold firm under siege against the elusive and lightning- fast Cheetahs attack, while using the ball effectively to punch holes in the defence.
As solid as the Cheetahs defence has been all season long, they are yet to be tested for long periods and with the Bulls ability to retain possession, the hosts will face the ultimate test of whether they can handle the medicine they have dished out to others.