Durban — The Currie Cup final promises to be a catfight of note in Bloemfontein on Saturday and you can fashion an argument for a winner depending on how you prefer your felines. The quick and deadly Cheetahs or the more muscular, dogged Pumas?
It is a clash of styles however you look at it. It is also a showdown that few predicted as little as a fortnight ago because both teams have had to tackle some serious hurdles to make it into the home stretch.
It is fascinating to see how it has panned out because it was these two teams that did the early running in the competition only to have mid-season collapses before pulling themselves together.
The Pumas had to win away against Griquas, the team they beat in last season’s final, and back it up with a semi-final defeat of the fancied Sharks ‘in Durban. It has been sheer grit and determination from Jimmy Stonehouse’s street fighters. They are a team that stays in the fight. They keep soldiering on against the odds and, somehow, they are in the final and now they are in it, they have a chance to win it.
I don’t think they will though. Over the same fortnight, the Cheetahs have moved up a gear and outclassed the Bulls home and away. That was a Bulls team at full URC strength, with a fired-up Jake White desperate to win, yet they were trounced 39-10 a week ago in Bloem.
I can’t see the Cheetahs losing before a heaving crowd of orange in the Toyota Stadium. It is a fact that finals are decided by who wants it the most and not necessarily on form. I think the Cheetahs have both — they are peaking perfectly and have such a big point to prove to South African rugby.
They have been treated shabbily, starting with their ejection from the PRO 14 to make way for the current URC teams for South Africa. Coach Hawies Fourie has lamented how difficult it is to attract new players and to hang on to his emerging stars, who get swallowed up by the URC teams. For example, two of Fourie’s stars, No 8 George Cronje and flyhalf Siya Masuku, will be joining the Sharks in the next few weeks.
It is true that the Pumas are in the same boat. After beating the Sharks, Stonehouse implored SA Rugby to find a second competition for his team to play in while confirming that his star centre Diego Appolis is off to the Sharks and his flyhalf, Tinus de Beer, to Wales.
In a nutshell, we have two equally hungry teams but the Cheetahs have the edge in terms of form and class plus they are at home. In my book, that makes them winners by eight points or more.