The Currie Cup Final between the Sharks and Blue Bulls in Durban next week have the makings to be one of the all-time classics on the South African scene.
Bulls hooker Derick Kuün, speaking to rugby365.com’s Jan de Koning, had no hesitation when asked where he rated this year’s grand finale of South Africa’s premier domestic competition.
“I think it can,” Kuün said when asked if it could rate up here with the best, adding that it indeed has the makings to be one of the great classics.
There is consensus that the two best teams in the country at present – the Sharks who finished first on the standings and the second-placed Bulls – are in the Final.
But it is the experience and quality of players in these two teams that makes this year’s Final such a delectable prospect.
The Bulls have eight World Cup winners in their Currie Cup squad – Wynand Olivier, International Rugby Board Player of the Year Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez, Wikus van Heerden, Victor Matfield (a Bok captain), Danie Rossouw and Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Bakkies Botha is injured and will miss the Final, is still an influential figure.
The Sharks have an all-international backline and also features eight World Cup winners in their Currie Cup squad – mercurial Francois Steyn, JP Pietersen, Ruan Pienaar, Johann Muller (also a Bok captain last year), Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Albert van den Berg and last but certainly not least the World Cup-winning captain John Smit.
It’s a selection of talent that will do any international match proud.
Kuün did not hesitate to heap praise on the opposition, although he still backs his own team to take the spoils.
“The Sharks are really good, with incredible depth,” he told rugby365.com.
“Look at the players they have at their disposal … just look at their bench to see the depth.”
The Bulls hooker said he doesn’t expect either team to change their tactics or approach much before the Final, because it is foolhardy to now make major adjustments.
“They will obviously play to their strengths. They have incredibly gifted and skilled backs, and their loose forwards are also very skilled.
“I don’t think they will change much from what brought them to the Final and how they played in the semifinal.
“They are very good and deserve to host the Final,” he added.
But the Bulls have some class and quality of their own that they will bring to the showdown.
Last year, when the World Cup Boks were withdrawn from the domestic scene, Kuün captained the Bulls when the Free State Cheetahs knocked them out in the semifinals.
He felt the big difference between 2007 and this year is the experience that returned to the Bulls’ team.
“Last year there were guys looking up to me, I was one of the senior guys in the team and this year we have all that experience,” he said, adding: “If you look at players like Victor Matfield and company, they bring that experience, calmness and the confidence to play at that level.
“That makes life easier for the others,” Kuün said.
He also pointed out that as a group the Bulls’ Currie Cup squad are pulling together as a unit and not playing as great individuals.
With both teams having two weeks to prepare – unlike the past when the Final was the week after the semifinals – there is more time to tweak and take off the rough edges.
Kuün says the Bulls are “almost” where they want to be, but felt: “We certainly haven’t produced our best form yet.”
The two-week break between the semis and the Final also haven’t changed the Bulls’ approach.
“It has been a normal training week for us,” he told this website.
“The guys haven’t paid much attention to it [the extra week]. From [this coming] Monday the real build-up will start,” he said, ahead of a four-day break in which the Bulls players will “clear the heads”.
Then, from Monday, when they start to focus on the Final the emotion will start building.
“A Final will always have lots of emotion,” Kuün said, adding: “From our point we have won the Currie Cup a few times, but we don’t have it at present, and we would dearly like to win it again.
“It’s also been a while since the Sharks won a Currie Cup, so I think emotion will run high on both sides.
“We are certainly looking forward to it and it will be a big challenge for us.”
He admitted that most of the preparation next week will focus on the mental build-up.
“The hard work is done, you can’t get any better in a week. The important thing is to get mentally tuned.
“It [ mental preparation] is not just the coach’s job, it is also the responsibility of the player.
“You know what works for you, to get you in the best possible frame of mind for the game, so every player will go through his own routine to be geared for the game.”Tweet