The 2016 Currie Cup final is still a few days away but already South African rugby fans are getting excited about the battle of the wings in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen says it’s going to be a hot and spicy affair, with more than just a title at stake.
Isn’t it time the Springboks played with specialists in the wing positions?
That was one of the questions rugby fans asked themselves during the Rugby Championship over the last two months; the Boks relying on veteran Bryan Habana, who played out of position on the right, and scrumhalf Francois Hougaard, who’s shown he can wing it, but prefers the No 9 jersey.
National coach Allister Coetzee was rightly questioned about these selections, especially as specialist wing Lwazi Mvovo was overlooked following his one horror show against Ireland in June.
Even the recalled Willie le Roux was considered a wing option in the home Tests against Australia and New Zealand ... he, too, being out of position, with fullback being his specialist position.
Supporters of the Boks had every right to ask why Coetzee wasn’t picking men who know the ins and outs of the position.
And now, with the Bok squad set to be named this weekend for the three Test Tour of Europe next month, questions will again be asked about the make-up of the squad - and the wing positions.
So, for this weekend’s Currie Cup finalists, the Cheetahs and the Bulls, there is a lot to play for.
Not only is this country’s most sought-after rugby title at stake on Saturday, but potentially a place in the Bok touring group - and of course bragging rights for being the best in the country.
And, not surprisingly all four wingers on Saturday will feel they have a chance of getting the nod from Coetzee.
For the Cheetahs Sergeal Petersen and Raymond Rhule have been strong, powerful and try-hungry all season, but so have the Bulls duo of Travis Ismaiel and Jamba Ulengo.
Petersen’s hat-trick against the Lions on Saturday was no fluke and he’s by no means a one-hit wonder; the former Southern Kings flier is a genuine finisher, with class written all over him. He’s got exceptional pace and sparkling skills and is the man the Boks need right now. On the other side is Rhule, a Bok tourist from a few years ago (2012), and he, too, wouldn’t let any side down. He’s blessed with pace and at 23 has a few seasons behind so there’s lots of experience to bank on.
Heck, even the man coming off the Cheetahs bench, Ryno Benjamin, isn’t to be scoffed at. He may be 33 and the veteran of the side, but like his counterparts, he’s got speed and plenty of skill, having featured for the SA Sevens team for many years. The Bulls can prepare to make plenty of tackles in the wide channels this weekend.
That said, the visitors from Pretoria also have two men with eyes on a Bok team call-up.
With seven tries Ulengo is the joint top try-scorer in the Currie Cup this season; a player with pace and power, and he’s done the business at Super Rugby level, too. And Ismaiel, who scored against Western Province on Saturday, has shown he is also a fine finisher with good skills.
It’s a wing showdown - on both sides - that will be worth the entry money alone. Right now Petersen’s the name on everyone’s lips, but on Saturday it could easily be Ulengo’s day or Ismaiels’s or even Rhule’s or Benjamin’s.