Fourie and Daniel: The quiet commandersComment on this story
Captains of rugby teams are often the superstars in the side – the most popular player in the team; the one who speaks well and enjoys that leadership responsibility.
But the skippers of the two Currie Cup finalists, Western Province and the Sharks, are probably on the other end of the scale of types of captains.
Deon Fourie and Keegan Daniel are both fairly shy, quiet men, thrust into the role of team commanders almost by default.
In Fourie’s case, that is literally what happened. First Schalk Burger was out for the season after just 10 minutes of the opening Stormers Super Rugby game, and then Jean de Villiers was made Springbok captain.
Fourie was the surprise choice to lead WP, which was also probably due to the absence of other big WP players such as Andries Bekker and Duane Vermeulen.
But the former Limpopo schoolboy has earned the respect of his teammates by producing one outstanding performance after another – and in a totally different position as well.
Due to the loose-forward crisis in the Cape this year, Fourie has had to move from his usual hooker spot to openside flank, and it has turned into a remarkable success story.
So brilliant has his transformation been from the front row to the loose trio that Fourie, who turned 26 last month, is being whispered as a serious candidate for the 32-man Springbok squad that will be named on Sunday for the end-of-year to Europe.
He has been superb in contesting possession at the breakdowns, creating turnovers and winning penalties, while his usual energetic contributions while running with the ball has allowed Province to break defences around the fringes.
When first moving into a loose-forward position for Province (he played at flank at school too), Fourie used to get his timing wrong on a few occasions when going into rucks, but he seems to have sorted it out and has conceded fewer penalties than at the start of the Currie Cup.
He also has a knack of scoring tries, especially from the back of mauls, which was best illustrated when he dotted down the winning try in the semi-final against the Lions last week.
Fourie has scored six touchdowns this season, which places him in third position on the leading list, with Cheetahs star Raymond Rhule on top with eight. Remarkably, the next best WP player on the list is inside centre Marcel Brache, with just three tries.
And while he may not say much off the field, Fourie does all his talking on it. He leads with his busy style of play, but can get his team going with a good old tongue-lashing when necessary.
He is the heart and soul of this WP side, and was acknowledged by his union when he was named as the Most Valuable Player at the WP annual awards ceremony last week.
Of course, Fourie is still expected to be the back-up at hooker should anything happen to No 2 Scarra Ntubeni.
Daniel has moved between being a ball-carrier and fetcher for most of his career, playing in the No 6 jersey. But 2012 has been the best season in his rugby life, and it has coincided with an almost permanent move to No 8.
The former Dale College schoolboy revels in space and playing a free-flowing game, and that is exactly what the Sharks have done all season long.
They made a thrilling charge towards the end of the Super Rugby competition, just making it into the top-six playoff spots after an arduous travel schedule. They then managed to knock over the Stormers in a Newlands semi-final, but ran out of puff in the final against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
But Daniel played superb rugby throughout, mainly at No 8, although Ryan Kankowski eventually made it back into the team at the back of the scrum.
Daniel’s incredible ball and running skills set him apart – his ability to link up with teammates in space is uncanny, while he has enough speed to break the line as well. Despite being only 1.88m, he has also developed into a reasonable and unexpected lineout option, while his defence is strong and effective.
He has also overseen a change in the Sharks’ attacking gameplan during the Currie Cup, which has mainly been due to the constant rain that has hit Durban in the last few months. Now they don’t only know how to run it, but also use the boot with great effect, combining with a physical pack. Daniel still gets stuck in despite not having as many opportunities to run with the ball.
Being able to manage difficult characters like the Du Plessis brothers is not an easy task either, but both Bismarck and Jannie flourished under Daniel’s leadership this year.
Daniel has been unlucky not to get more gametime with the Springboks in 2012, as Bok coach Heyneke Meyer prefers big, physical loose forwards. The 27-year-old started against Argentina at Newlands, but then didn’t even make the tour squad to Australia and New Zealand.
He will hope that another big performance in the Currie Cup final will see him make the cut for next month’s tour to Ireland and the UK.
Fourie and Daniel may go head-to-head in the rucks on Saturday, and both will look to get their team on the front foot. But who will hold the Sir Donald Currie Cup aloft?