The Cheetahs winning through to this year’s Currie Cup final is no surprise considering how they dominated the competition, but what did surprise many is how easily they dispatched the defending champions, the Lions, in the semi-finals.
A 55-17 hammering was not on the cards; especially against a team that a few months ago had played in the Super Rugby final.
But the thing is this was not the Lions’ strongest team, not by a long shot, and to compare it to the side that faced the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby final would be making a huge mistake.
The following men did not play on Saturday - either because of injury or club commitments elsewhere: Dylan Smith, Andries Ferreira, Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel, Warwick Tecklenburg, Warren Whiteley, Elton Jantjies, Howard Mnisi, Lionel Mapoe, Ruan Combrinck, Courtnall Skosan, and then Faf de Klerk only played from the bench.
That’s 12 first choice, and possibly starting, players - men who played virtually every weekend during the Super Rugby competition.
This alone shows just how watered down the Currie Cup is. It is by no means an indicator of the strength of South African rugby.
The Lions did well to make the last four if you consider they played in the competition with basically a second-string side.
Also, what this year’s Currie Cup, including this last weekend’s results, has taught us is the following: Continuity is king.
The Cheetahs were excellent from start to finish, winning all their games and they go into the final against the Bulls on Saturday with a nine-from-nine record. If they win it’ll be 10 out of 10. Last year when the Lions won the title they did it after going 12 games unbeaten.
The key to that success is that Johan Ackermann was able to pick the same team he played in Super Rugby - mainly because the Lions didn’t produce too many Springboks last year.
They were a tight-knit unit who knew each other and understood the men around them. They had also gelled over a certain period of time.
That’s what Franco Smith has managed to do - got his players on the same page because they’ve been playing together for a year now.
The Cheetahs, like the Lions a year ago, haven’t been disrupted by national call-ups and players heading abroad. It just shows how important it is to keep the same group of players together and to get them playing week-in and week-out.
And this rugby fans, is one of the main reasons why the Springboks have battled so much this season. Sure, there are a number of issues that need to be resolved, but let’s not forget the fact they’re a new group of men, many of whom are playing together for the first time, and the absence of several potential first-choice men, mainly through injury, has robbed the coaching team of picking the best outfit.
Ask yourself why the Lions and Boks experienced similar campaigns recently in different competitions? Sometimes you’re only as good as the players at your disposal ... and time spent together will always be a factor, too.