Cape Town – Who will ever forget it? Eben Etzebeth sending the mighty Bismarck du Plessis crashing backwards in last year’s Super Rugby semi-final.
Bismarck had the last laugh on the night, as the Sharks broke the Stormers’ hearts. But Etzebeth gained some revenge during last year’s Currie Cup final at Kings Park in Durban. He was a tremendous presence for Province on the night, especially in the lineouts, where he and lock partner De Kock Steenkamp pinched a number of Sharks throw-ins.
Bismarck, though, did not play in last year’s final due to injury, and now by hook or by crook, the Sharks were able to get him off a stamping charge and available for tomorrow’s final at Newlands.
Bismarck is the gnarled veteran, with 54 Tests for the Springboks and regarded as the best hooker in the world. He will be determined to show that he is not a dirty player despite being cleared of foul play following an apparent stamp on Cheetahs flank Lappies Labuschagné in last week’s semi-final.
Province supporters will pack out Newlands to capacity on Saturday and would look to create a gladiatorial-type atmosphere, especially when Bismarck gets involved. Expect a few boos to ring out each time he touches the ball, but that won’t faze the Bok hooker, who will be eager to make up for lost time after missing last year’s final defeat to WP through injury.
But he will have to contend with the giant Etzebeth, who stands 2.04m tall and has been a commanding figure for the Boks, Stormers and WP in the last two years. Despite only turning 22 next week, Etzebeth is as robust as they come, able to dish out punishing hits on defence and bash his way through would-be tacklers with his massive frame when carrying the ball. And when those fiery eyes and bulging biceps are about to explode, you know that Etzebeth means business.
Craig Burden was at hooker for the Durbanites in last year’s final between the sides due to Bismarck’s long-term knee injury. With Bismarck and his brother Jannie back, WP may face a greater challenge in contesting the set-piece this time around. “With Eben there, the contesting is vital and it counted for a lot last year. But Bismarck didn’t play and he is good with his lineout throwing,” WP captain Deon Fourie told the Cape Times.
Talking about Fourie, what a turnaround the last 12 months have been been for him. The 27-year-old would not have been regarded by many as a possible Province captain a few years ago. A shy guy who is not a big talker, he was operating at hooker and while he was very quick across the ground, he probably lacked the bulk for the No 2 jersey.
Most importantly, his primary task of throwing the ball into the lineouts was the weakest part of his game, and he had to compete with the experienced Tiaan Liebenberg for the hooker berth.
But on Saturday at Newlands, Fourie could match Corné Krige’s record of leading Province to two consecutive Currie Cup titles against the Sharks. And both are openside flanks!
“I’m very excited. It doesn’t happen often that you play a home final in your career, so to win it back-to-back would be very special. We won the last five Super Rugby games, and we have the belief and desire to win the trophy,” Fourie said.
WP coach Allister Coetzee has advised his team to not get caught up in the significance of playing a first home final in 12 years. “It’s important for us to know our detail well. It’s about intensity and accuracy. I know that there is a lot of excitement in the city, and that’s where the emotion comes from. It’s something that we’ve embraced and something that we’ve worked very hard for, and now it’s here. We’ve got to make sure that we get across the final hurdle.”
Western Province: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jean de Villiers, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Bench: 16 Frans Malherbe, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Michael Rhodes, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Juan de Jongh.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Stephan Lewies, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Heimar Williams.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan. Kickoff: 5.30pm.
TV: M-Net/SS1/SS HD1.