ANDRE-PIERRE CRONJE picks the Vodacom Bulls and Sharks players to look out for ahead of the Currie Cup final.
Is there a player in South Africa with a more inspiring, unlikely and downright heroic comeback story than Cornal Hendricks? A Currie Cup victory on Saturday would fittingly complete an astonishing return to rugby by the wing-turned-centre.
Hendricks has shown incredible versatility in making the transition to inside centre this season. The move is chiefly credited to Jake White but that glosses over just how hard Hendricks has worked to make it a success.
The inside centre has been the cornerstone of the Bulls backline in the lead-up to the final. His footwork has created more than a few linebreaks this season and his ability to distribute has regularly put away his outside backs. When Hendricks is on song, the Bulls backline is too.
Hendricks has, time and time again, doggedly refused to give up. He is the embodiment of ‘superior discontent’ and will feel he has a point to prove again this weekend. As enthralling as his story has been so far, who is to say it need end at provincial level?
After making his return from injury, Gqoboka has looked assured in his play; on Saturday he’ll have the opportunity to take another step up and stake his claim for higher honours.
Last week, WP prop Ali Vermaak gave Thomas du Toit all sorts of problems at scrum time, and Gqoboka will be targeting the 130kg Springbok tighthead again this weekend. A dominant performance up front is a non-negotiable if the Bulls are to have any chance of winning the Currie Cup and much of that will rest upon the shoulders of their loosehead.
As a point of personal motivation, Gqoboka will be especially driven to outplay his opposite man and biggest rival, Ox Nche. Both Gqoboka and Nche are vying for a position in a Springbok match-day 23 and whoever performs better in the final may well get the inside lane.
The ‘Weekend Special’ has been relatively quiet since his return from injury, but showed a few glimpses last week of the phenomenal ability that made him the hottest name in South African rugby early last year.
The style of play in finals rugby may be famously conservative, but given even half an opportunity Fassi will look to exploit any gaps in the Bulls defence. His lightning pace and footwork make him a perennial threat.
If there were ever a time to find form, and ever a place to do it, then the Currie Cup final would be it. With all rugby eyes on him, Fassi will be hoping to put in a timely reminder of exactly who the Springbok fullback-in-waiting is.
Last time the Bulls and Sharks met in Durban, Richardson walked away with the man-of-the-match accolade. His work at the breakdown was game-changing in that contest and Sharks fans will hope he can be equally influential this weekend.
The 22-year-old has been a revelation since making the transition to the back row. Richardson’s work rate is exceptional and he has demonstrated plenty of mongrel in the way he goes about his play, (in)famously getting under the skin of Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen.
With the ever-potent Curwin Bosch waiting to slot penalty goals from seemingly anywhere within 70 metres of the posts, Richardson will be tasked with winning the Sharks breakdown penalties. He’ll be up against an equally adept Bulls fetcher in Marco van Staden and it will be a fascinating contest to see which opensider comes out on top.