DYLAN JACK looks at five personal duels which could be decisive in the second semi-final between Western Province and the Sharks on Saturday.
Ali Vermaak vs Thomas du Toit
Now, this could be a fascinating clash! Thomas du Toit will return to the Sharks starting lineup after sitting out the last couple of matches with a rib injury and will be up against Ali Vermaak, who has replaced Steven Kitshoff in Province’s team for the semi-final.
Western Province will be without Kitshoff due to Covid-19 regulations It is a major blow for the Cape side as Kitshoff has been one of the best performers in the two domestic competitions.
He has not only been dominant in the scrum, but also underlined his value at the breakdown, as he is the only non-loose forward featuring among the top-five turnover titans after the Currie Cup round-robin stage. Kitshoff has also been tied top of the ball-carriers list, with 40 to his name, putting him level with Frans Steyn and Willem Alberts.
Vermaak made his return to action in Super Rugby Unlocked after spending two years out with a long-term neck injury which threatened his rugby career. The 31-year-old is an experienced campaigner though and will have a few tricks up his sleeve to deal with Du Toit’s brute force.
Ruben van Heerden vs Salmaan Moerat
The two locks have been unsung heroes for their respective teams, but even though they don’t always grab the headlines, they have nevertheless been important.
Van Heerden has been in excellent form as the Sharks’ enforcer and often doesn’t get the credit he deserves for some of his performances.
Moerat, meanwhile, has long been touted as a future Springbok and has shown glimpses of his immense potential in Super Rugby Unlocked, even if he has been a bit quieter in the Currie Cup.
Which of these two bruisers comes out on top could have a big say in who goes through to the Currie Cup final.
Juarno Augustus vs Sikhumbuzo Notshe
This will very much be a contrast in style at No 8. Juarno Augustus is very much in the mould of a typical South African eighthman, weighing in at around 116kg, which he looks to use to good effect when carrying at an opposition defence.
Meanwhile, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, who will be facing his former side, is far more trim at 101kg, but is still very effective when he mixes it up with the Sharks backline and manages to get into space.
The Sharks are going to have to keep a sharp eye on Augustus when defending on their own tryline, as the 23-year-old has a habit of being able to bulldoze his way over from short range.
Likewise, Western Province are going to have be careful of gifting the Sharks turnover ball, as Notshe will often be the first player looking to punish a defence that has not had time to set.
Curwin Bosch vs Tim Swiel
Unlike Curwin Bosch, Tim Swiel has had to patiently wait for his chance at Western Province as he started the season providing backup to Damian Willemse. However, a long-term injury to fullback Warrick Gelant prompted Willemse’s move to fullback, allowing Swiel to get an extended run in the starting lineup.
While he may not be the flashiest of players, Swiel has plenty of experience and has helped Province dominate the territory battle when he has started. He certainly showed that he has the nerve for the big moments when he confidently slotted a last-minute winning penalty against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, which sent Province through to the playoffs at the home side’s expense.
Bosch, meanwhile, has been the Sharks first-choice playmaker since the beginning of last year and has repaid his coach’s faith by almost single-handedly getting his team out of some tricky situations. Province cannot afford to be too lax on their discipline, as Bosch has shown that he can comfortably slot penalties from well over 50 metres at sea level.
Aphelele Fassi vs Damian Willemse
The Springboks will have another glimpse into the future as two players who have been touted as potential successors to incumbent fullback Willie le Roux will face off.
As stated above, Willemse did not start the season at fullback as Province coach John Dobson preferred to give him the time to adjust his game at flyhalf. However, Gelant’s injury has forced Willemse to shift back to the No 15 jersey, but the 22-year-old has been solid since making the move as he finished the round-robin stage with the second-most offloads.
Fassi, meanwhile, has only recently returned to action after missing most of the domestic season through injury. However, he certainly showed against Griquas that he has lost none of his attacking verve and will be a handful for the Stormers defence on Saturday.
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