CAPE TOWN - The term “finals rugby” is used to describe matches that are closely-fought affairs, like Tests often are, and of course, actual finals.
But Bulls coach Jake White has opted not to stick with that cliché when asked how his team would approach today’s Currie Cup title decider against the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld (5pm kickoff).
In fact, he has gone as far as to suggest that the Sharks players will be the ones feeling the heat of the occasion, as they had lost to the same Western Province side in Durban that the Bulls dismantled 48-31 in last week’s semi-final in Pretoria.
“We started last week against the same Province side that blew the Sharks away, in Durban at their home ground, and we could win the game literally in the first 25 minutes. And there is no reason why we can’t replicate that again,” the former Bok coach said yesterday after making two changes to the team, with Joe van Zyl in at hooker and Chris Smith at flyhalf for Schalk Erasmus and Johan Goosen, respectively.
“I am expecting us to start like we did last week as well – why wouldn’t we? What’s the difference … The Sharks lost to Province two weeks ago, at home and Province were on the ropes after 25 minutes against us.
“I am positive. It’s not a case of whether I think it’s going to be an arm-wrestle. Whatever happened last year is irrelevant. Whether it was 100 minutes … last year, all the Springboks played. This year, the Sharks are missing 10 or 11 of their players that are in Australia.
“There’s no answer. Is it going to be a WWE dog-fight, is it going to be finals rugby, whatever. We must just play as well as we can, and if we do, then we’ll be fine.”
Even when told that finals generally do tend to be different, and asked about the lessons learnt from last season’s Currie Cup and Rainbow Cup finals, White didn’t change his tune.
“You’ve just answered it for me: a desperate Western Province team beat them. So, the challenge is simple – we’ll just come tomorrow and be more desperate than them playing at home, and then we’ll be okay.”
One of the major differences is that chief attacking spark Goosen is out with Covid-19, which sees Smith stepping in at No 10. Although a solid enough pivot, the latter doesn’t possess the playmaking skills of Goosen, and battled under the spotlight in the Rainbow Cup final defeat to Benetton in Treviso.
His tactical kicking game came under pressure in Italy, and the Sharks possess the experienced Curwin Bosch and Lionel Cronje, who are highly capable of testing the Bulls defence with their boots.
In that regard, White is also still weighing up whether to go with a specialist flyhalf substitute in youngster David Coetzer, or utility back Ruan Combrinck. Add in a new hooker like Van Zyl, who hasn’t had much game time this season, and there is a lot that could do wrong for the Bulls.
But whether the Sharks have the necessary ammunition to exploit those possible Bulls vulnerabilities is debatable considering that a significant number of their top players are in Australia with the Springboks.
Tighthead prop Thomas du Toit is a welcome boost to the Durbanites’ pack, though, so Bulls No 1 Gerhard Steenekamp will face a serious test of his scrummaging prowess.
Meanwhile, the Bulls announced yesterday that they have signed veteran hooker Bismarck du Plessis on a two-year deal.
TEAMS FOR LOFTUS VERSFELD
Bulls: 15 David Kriel 14 Cornal Hendricks 13 Lionel Mapoe 12 Harold Vorster 11 Madosh Tambwe 10 Chris Smith 9 Zak Burger 8 Elrigh Louw 7 Arno Botha 6 Marcell Coetzee (captain) 5 Ruan Nortjé 4 Janko Swanepoel 3 Mornay Smith 2 Joe van Zyl 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Bench: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Jacques van Rooyen 19 Jacques du Plessis 20 WJ Steenkamp 21 Keagan Johannes 22 Ruan Combrinck/David Coetzer 23 Stravino Jacobs.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch 14 Yaw Penxe 13 Werner Kok 12 Marius Louw 11 Thaakier Abrahams 10 Lionel Cronje 9 Sanele Nohamba 8 Phepsi Buthelezi (captain) 7 Henco Venter 6 Dylan Richardson 5 Le Roux Roets 4 Gerbrandt Grobler 3 Thomas du Toit 2 Kerron van Vuuren 1 Khwezi Mona.
Bench: 16 Dan Jooste 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu 18 Khutha Mchunu 19 Thembelani Bholi 20 Reniel Hugo 21 Lucky Dlepu 22 Jeremy Ward 23 Anthony Volmink.