DURBAN – The Cheetahs will be doing battle on two fronts in two hemispheres on Saturday, with their frontline troops in action in Ireland against Munster and their rearguard defending Bloemfontein from the visiting Sharks.
The lucrative and glamorous Pro 14 is clearly where the Free State union’s bread is best buttered while the Currie Cup is where their juniors will do their apprenticeships.
This is not entirely dissimilar to how the Super Rugby franchises approach the Currie Cup, with one of the objectives being developing talent ahead of the following year’s Super Rugby. At the beginning of the year there is a gathering of the clans of sorts as top players return from Japan, long-term injury or are signed from other unions.
It means the Sharks on Saturday (2pm kick-off) can do little more than direct their focus on themselves. They probably haven’t a clue as to who most of the Cheetahs’ players are. But Sharks captain Chiliboy Ralepelle is wary.
“I am not so sure they will be as under-strength as people think. They lost their first two games and they will be desperate to get points,” Ralepelle says. “One thing you can anticipate from the Cheetahs is to expect the unexpected. They will have a young side full of energy and enthusiasm and they will want to speed up the game and try and chase us around, so we have to stay patient, keep to our structures and be accurate in everything we do.”
Key for the Sharks is to play with high tempo, intensity and, most of all, minimal errors.
“But whatever the case, this match presents an opportunity for us as a team to excel and play to the standards we have set ourselves,” Ralepelle said. “It is about how we want to play and keeping to our structures ...and then executing accurately. That is the challenge.”
And the one-round strategy does not allow for dips in form and poor games. It is all about momentum, Ralepelle points out.
“The Currie Cup presents a different challenge to that of Super Rugby in terms of having the same quality teams around,” the 32-year-old says. “And you only have six games before the playoffs so each one is vitally important. You have to maximise every opportunity of getting log points, winning your home games and then getting away wins to put pressure on the other teams at the end.
“So we understand the importance of every game, on keeping the focus, such as on this game against the Cheetahs, because every game is a final,” Ralepelle stressed.
But within the seriousness there is the wonderful sight of bright new things doing their sprightly stuff, many in their first season of senior rugby.
For the Sharks, there was the sparkling cameo of Aphelele Fassi last week against the Bulls. He is a fullback by trade but came on at wing and scored two lovely tries.
“What we are trying to do is create an environment in which youngsters can express themselves,” explains the captain. “There is a number of them, Fassi, Khutha Mchunu, Andrew Evans ... they have matured a lot in the last few week we have been together.
“The freedom with which they play is what the coach is trying to create, so it is great that it is coming through,” Ralepelle continued. “Having guys with that amount of talent gives us forwards the responsibility of making sure we put them in a better place to create and finish off opportunities. There are a lot of talented youngsters coming though which is going to be good for the union going forward.”
Kick-off on Saturday: 2pm
The Free State Cheetahs team is:
15 Adriaan Carelse, 14 Ali Mgijima, 13 Carel-Jan Coetzee, 12 Tersius Kruger, 11 Lloyd Greeff, 10 Louis Fouce, 9 Rudy Paige (c), 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Gerhard Olivier, 6 Stephan Malan, 5 Dennis Visser, 4 Louis Conradie, 3 Gunther Janse van Vuuren, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Kevin Steven.
Subs: 16 Jannes Snyman, 17 Johan Kotze, 18 Luigi van Jaarsveld, 19 Abongile Nonkontwana, 20 Dian Badenhorst, 21 Vuyani Maqina, 22 Reinhart Erwee.
The Sharks team is:
15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 John-Hubert Meyer, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle (c), 1 Juan Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Khutha Mchunu, 18 Andrew Evans, 19 Luke Stringer, 20 Cameron Wright, 21 Johan Deysel, 22 Aphelele Fassi.
Five Sharks were schooled in the Eastern Cape. They are:
Curwin Bosch - Grey High, Port Elizabeth
Jeremy Ward – Grey High, Port Elizabeth
Tyler Paul – St Andrew’s College, Grahamstown
Lwazi Mvovo - Maria Louw High School, Queenstown
Aphelele Fassi – Dale College, King William’s Town