SA Rugby magazine takes a look at how each team got to the 2020-21 Currie Cup semi-finals.
Following their Vodacom Super Rugby success, Jake White’s team came into this competition as odds-on favourites and, with the exception of their game against the Pumas, their performance leading up to the semi-finals has only enhanced that status.
They opened their Currie Cup account with a thrilling 22-20 win over bitter-rivals Western Province despite being reduced to 14 men in controversial manner.
The Bulls followed that up with a 40-13 hammering of the Cheetahs, before slumping to an agonising 32-29 defeat by the Sharks at Kings Park. That loss was the start of a difficult period for the Bulls, who were then hit by a Covid-19 outbreak within the squad resulting in the cancellation of their match against Griquas.
It could be argued that the break in play was a blessing in disguise for the men from Pretoria. While the other teams played over the Christmas and New Year’s period, the Bulls’ next match – against the Lions – was only on 6 January. And although the Gauteng derby was as clear-cut as many believed it would be, the Bulls eventually got over the line, beating the Lions 22-15.
That win sealed top spot and a home semi-final for them, rendering their last round-robin match against the Pumas redundant. That prompted White to field a second-string lineup, mostly made up of U21 players against the Pumas and while outcome had no impact on the log table, the Bulls’ rookies were put to the sword, losing 44-14.
Be that as it may, there were several standout players throughout this campaign for the Bulls, including but not limited to the likes of Marco van Staden, Duane Vermeulen, Stedman Gans and Kurt-Lee Arendse. And perhaps that’s what separates the Bulls from the rest: they don’t rely on one or two specific players to have a big game, it’s all about collective effort and it’s working wonders at Loftus at the moment.
It seems like the Lions’ excellent campaign has gone a bit unnoticed or at least flew by under the radar. While the Super Rugby Unlocked games were factored into the Currie Cup standings, it was the Lions who boasted the best record since the start of the Currie Cup. They won five of their six games, with WP, the Cheetahs, Sharks, Pumas and Griquas all falling victim to their prowess.
It was only at the last hurdle they stumbled, losing by seven to the Bulls in a closely fought contest. That defeat subjected the Lions to a fourth-place finish and thus a semi-final against the Bulls at ‘Fortress Loftus’.
The one player that has stood out head and shoulders above everyone else has been Tiaan Swanepoel. The 24-year-old Namibian has, in a short space of time, become an invaluable asset for the Lions. And if the Lions can stay within touching distance of the Bulls as they did in their previous meeting, Swanepoel’s booming boot could well come into play when deciding which team progresses to the final.
The Sharks have blown hot and cold this season. They’ve just not been able to replicate the form they displayed in the Vodacom Super Rugby 2020 before the initial Covid-19 outbreak brought the world to a virtual standstill.
They bagged a stirring victory over the Bulls, only to lose and lose by large margins against both the Lions and Cheetahs on consecutive weekends. As expected, they beat Griquas but their match against Western Province was called off due to a breach in Covid-19 protocols.
Much like the team, the individuals in the Sharks squad have shown glimpses of excellence but struggled to maintain a good run of form for a sustained period of time. The upcoming semi-final against Western Province would be a good place to find their form, individually and as a collective.
Western Province coach John Dobson has managed this campaign excellently. With all the boardroom drama surrounding Western Province Rugby and uncertainty about the future of some of its most senior players, Dobson and his charges have blocked out the outside noise to book their place in the final.
When WP suffered back-to-back defeats, to the Bulls and Lions, at the start of the Currie Cup season and were hit with untimely injuries at various intervals throughout the competition, their campaign appeared in danger of derailment, but they ground out three hard-fought wins to stay in the race for the title.
Steven Kitshoff has been WP’s most consistent performer and finds himself in the top five for ball carries, tackles made, breakdown turnovers and total ball steals. For everything they’ve overcome this season, the news that Kitshoff is in danger of missing the semi-final through injury could be a setback that’s just to costly for Western Province to get over.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images