Sikhumbuzo Notshe will be back on the centre stage as the Sharks brace for a physical onslaught from the Vodacom Bulls in the Currie Cup final in Pretoria, writes DYLAN JACK.
Saturday’s game at Loftus Versfeld will be the third Currie Cup final in Notshe’s career. As far a game of this magnitude goes, he has been there and done that, experiencing both the highs and the lows.
In 2017, he started at openside flank for Western Province as they scored 18 unanswered second-half points to beat a favoured Sharks team in Durban. In 2018, he was at No 8 as Western Province were the favourites this time, but he struggled to get into the game as the home side slumped to a 17-12 loss.
It was after the latter when Notshe found himself heavily criticised for a ‘lack of physicality’ against the barnstorming Du Preez twins, who may have been particularly fired up after being left out of the Springbok squad for the end-of-year tour.
That would mark the start of a particularly low point in Notshe’s career, as successive long-term injuries made him struggle for consistent game time at Western Province.
Now in the black-and-white colours of the Sharks, whom he joined at the end of 2019, the 27-year-old once again finds himself on the big stage, as the Durban side prepares to face a Bulls team who are unbeaten at home in both Super Rugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup campaign.
Notshe was simply superb in the 2020 Super Rugby season, helping the Sharks top the overall standings before the Covid-19-enforced lockdown. While he has battled to rediscover that form since domestic rugby resumed, that has largely been down to inconsistent time on the park caused by a hamstring injury and Covid-19 isolation period.
However, he has looked back to his best in the latter parts of December and in January, scoring a fantastic try against Griquas, before making a telling contribution against his former employers in an intense but scrappy semi-final.
It was in that final match at Newlands that Notshe once again showed how much he has upped his involvement in the close-quarter battles. His graft on defence when the Sharks were under immense pressure in the first half was as impressive has his work rate when the Sharks were knocking on Province’s tryline in the latter stages of the match.
However, the Sharks pack will face a tough test on Saturday against a Bulls pack led by Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen. On the Sharks’ previous outing at Loftus, the Bulls pack ran riot as they eased to a 41-14 victory.
Speaking ahead of the clash on Tuesday, Notshe said that the Sharks’ discipline is key if they are to stop the Bulls from gaining similar momentum in the final.
‘We know that they have got a good set piece,’ Notshe said. ‘It was not ideal to give Western Province so many lineouts in our own 22. Our discipline was poor and that’s why we had to defend so many mauls.
‘In saying that, I must compliment our pack on the resilience and energy they showed in stopping those mauls. If we give away so many penalties against the Bulls, I think they will convert some of those because they have a mean pack of forwards, like the Stormers.
‘It is one thing knowing what they are going to bring, but we will have to go out on Saturday and stop them. That’s what our forward pack did last Saturday. We did our homework. I think we are going to need more of that this Saturday.’
Saturday will once again present Notshe with the opportunity to show that he belongs on the Test scene. Not by playing as an archetypal South African No 8, but by doing it as he has always done it – his way.