Don’t expect too much in terms of fancy footwork, or expansive and extravagant moves when the Blue Bulls and Free State Cheetahs go head-to-head in their semifinal in Pretoria on Saturday.
Jan de Koning, Rugby365.com
Encounters between these two sides – who have met in the play-offs every year since 2004 – have produced some of the most dramatic results. Also, some of the most brutal.
Just think back to the Final of 2005, when a bounce of the ball literally handed the Currie Cup to the Cheetahs.
And with neither side making a secret of the fact that they will again be out to physically dominate the opposition, to pummel them into submission, the bar will be raised considerably.
Not surprising then that Saturday’s game has been likened to a game of international intensity.
As Cheetahs flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter said, “play-off games like these are very much like Test rugby”.
The No.10, who has been cleared of his hand injury and will take his place in the pivotal position, comes from Pretoria and obviously has a point to prove to the Loftus brainstrust.
But it is his tactical appreciation of what is required in matches of this nature and intensity that will be his greatest asset.
Potgieter also hinted that both teams could be just a tad more conservative on Saturday as they try to win the arm-wrestle.
“You really don’t want to be caught in your own half, making a mistake. Those mistakes will be very costly, so you will be a bit more conservative,” he told rugby365.com.
Bulls captain Victor Matfield also made it clear they won’t suddenly start playing fancy-free rugby.
The Bulls will also work first and foremost to get an edge in the physical exchanges.
“We certainly won’t change from what we have done in the past,” Matfield told this website, making it clear they will produce a typical forward-orientated game.
“It is simply a case of focussing on our game plan and executing it properly.
“As we all know, semifinals and finals are about using the opportunities that are presented to you, so if the opportunities are there we must make sure we use every chance,” the Bulls and Bok superstar said.
Matfield also acknowledged the threat pose by the physical nature of the Cheetahs’ game.
“They have a very good pack and they play a very physical game,” Matfield said, adding: “But they also have that ability to trouble you out wide when they start playing an expansive game.”
But, as both camps indicated, don’t expect too much of the latter.
It will be brutal, as always, but most off all it will be a game of inches – both on the pitch and in the head.
As Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské said this week, it is not a game in which either team will be holding back.
“You have to get on top of them physically,” Drotske told sarugby.co.za. “Yes, it might sound easy in theory, but if you want to beat them you have to hit them hard at the breakdown and dominate the collisions.
“We know it’s a tough ask,” admitted Drotské, adding: “But it’s all down to those 80 minutes on Saturday and we need to stay positive and switched on at all times, as anything can happen out there.”
Players to watch:
For the Blue Bulls: You can look at all the superstars – Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Wikus van Heerden, Victor Matfield, Danie Rossouw and Gurthrö Steenkamp. But the key will be the performance of the front row of Rayno Gerber, Derick Kuün and Gurthrö Steenkamp.
For the Free State Cheetahs: You could look at the creative ability of young Robert Ebersohn, the blistering pace of Jongi Nokwe, Juan Smith’s ball-carrying power or Bok hooker Adriaan Strauss. But none of them can be the game-breakers they ought to be if the tight five – Barend Pieterse, David de Villiers, Kobus Calldo, Strauss and Wian du Preez don’t come to the party.
Head to head: The most crucial of all the showdowns is the flyhalf battle between Morné Steyn (Blue Bulls) and Jacques-Louis Potgieter (Free State Cheetahs). This game is likely to be decided by the accuracy of the boot – both in terms of kicking at goal and playing for territory. The battle of the breakdown – where Wikus van Heerden (Bulls) will be challenged by Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs) – is worth the entry fee alone.
Road to the playoffs:
v Lions won 7-21
v Western Province lost 26-17
v Sharks won 35-14
v Cheetahs won 31-23
v Boland won 10-26
v Falcons won 7-50
v Lions lost 27-30
v Griquas won 41-12
v Western Province won 37-6
v Sharks lost 34-24
v Boland won 69-19
v Cheetahs won 5-23
v Griquas won 22-58
v Falcons won 22-20
Free State Cheetahs:
v Griquas won 16-20
v Lions won 22-18
v Western Province lost 9-3
v Bulls lost 31-23
v Sharks won 31-9
v Falcons won 55-14
v Boland won 10-15
v Griquas won 22-3
v Lions won 28-38
v Western Province lost 17-35
v Sharks lost 22-10
v Bulls lost 5-23
v Falcons won 7-78
v Boland won 50-40
Prediction: It all points to a game of dominance by the Blue Bulls – they have the experience, skill and pace. However, how they utilise that advantage is what will determine the outcome. We feel the Bulls are just too mature for the Cheetahs. The Bulls by 10 points.
Blue Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 John Mametsa, 13 Marius Delport, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Derick Kuün, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Tiger Mangweni.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Bevin Fortuin, 14 JW Jonker, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Smith (captain), 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Barend Pieterse, 4 David de Villiers, 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Nico Breedt, 19 Hendro Scholtz, 20 Jandré Blom, 21 Hennie Daniller, 22 Kabamba Floors.
Date: Saturday, October 11
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Weather: Partly cloudy. Low of 12°C to a high of 30°C
Referee: Craig Joubert
Touch judges: Deon van Blommestein, Joey Salmans
TMO: Shaun Veldsman