Barney brewing in Bloem

The battle staged two weeks ago won’t hold a candle to Saturday’s semi-final between the Vodacom Cheetahs and the Sharks. Keo.co.za lines the two sides up toe-to-toe.

The Durban boys have not had a great time of it in Bloemfontein in the past few years, their last victory being in the strength versus strength competition of 2003. While the teams shown here may of course be altered at the last minute by the respective coaches Rassie Erasmus and Dick Muir, neither side should deviate from their established style of play.

THE BACK THREE

Bevin Fortuin has been one of the most consistent performers in 2006, his influential boot being utilised as a primary method of gaining territory for the Cheetahs. Fortuin complements the more attacking specialists Gavin Passens and leading try-scorer Phillip Burger, blending the dependable with the unpredictable very nicely. JP Pietersen, Brent Russell and Odwa Ndungane have all been dangerous on the counterattack, but what tips the game in the home side’s favour in this area is the ability of Fortuin to take control of the game from the back.

MIDFIELD MATCH UP

All four centres have yet to play in an Absa Currie Cup semi-final, and it will be interesting to see how they adjust to the pressure. Hendrik Meyer has proved to have all the assets required of a top class player, possessing the physical attributes as well as an invaluable ability to break the line regularly. His centre partner JW Jonker has been equally impressive.

Brad Barrit’s performances in the inside channel this year have fallen a little flat since the first rounds of the competition, and as a result the Sharks backline has not been as expansive as they might have been. The consolation is that he and Waylon Murray are a far more established combination than their opponents, having played together for the majority of the domestic tournament and at this year’s SA U21 tournament in France.

HALFBACK HUSSLE

2006 has been Ruan Pienaar’s year, and with a superior kicking game and vision to spare, he holds the wood over Michael Claasens. SA U19 flyhalf Francois Steyn has produced a lot of magic since Muir entrusted him with the Sharks’ No 10 shirt, but once again his lack of experience could count against him. The Cheetahs defence has been the best in the competition, and the teenager will be a marked man.

It’s true that Derick Hougaard won the Currie Cup for the Blue Bulls back in 2002 at 19, but in comparison, Free State’s Willem de Waal is streets ahead of the young Sharks flyhalf. His tactical play has been clever and effective, if not criticised for being a bit conservative, while his goal-kicking under pressure has been his strongest trait, and one needs only check the Currie Cup point-scorer leader board before they challenge the fact. De Waal looks set to become the domestic competition’s most prolific scorer for the third year running.

BACK ROW BLITZ

The first 15 minutes will reveal which loose trio is going to dominate this match. A faster-paced game will favour the dual-scavengers, Kabamba Floors and Ryno van der Merwe, who should dominate around the fringes and in the turnover stakes. While the Sharks have lacked nothing in aggression and intensity at the breakdown, the Free State men’s speed between the rucks will be what costs the visitors possession.

LINEOUT LEADERS

The Cheetahs emphasis on the line-out as a means of providing a strong attacking platform has been well documented throughout the season. But with the selection of two shorter loose forwards in Van der Merwe and Floors as well as the omission of prime line-out target Barend Pieterse due to injury, they will have rethought this tactic.

Steven Sykes and Johann Muller have been two solid performers for the Durban-based side, and both bring a lot of physical impetus to the tight phases. The Sharks have the heavier pack, and will defintiely try to use this to their advantage by mauling the ball upfield off the line-outs.

MAXIMUM PROPS

The first installment was a doozie, and the second was even more gruelling. The final test will be in how the Cheetahs fare after two consecutive weeks of physical battery. Round three promises to be just as tough, with the best props in the country packing down against one another. Kees Lensig is expected to outdo Jannie du Plessis, although the 23 year old stood up to the veteran in their previous meeting. The captaincy has really brought out the best in Ollie le Roux, and he will undoubtedly employ all of his experience against the formidable Springbok incumbent BJ Botha.

Bismarck du Plessis has been outstanding this season, fulfilling the modern-day role of an extra loose forward in addition to his normal hooking duties. Richardt Strauss has also been a find for the Cheetahs, and both he and reserve Jaco du Toit have played a big part in the Cheetahs success at line-out time.

On paper and on form, the champs should secure the win and come back to Vodacom Park next week to defend their title. That being said, the Sharks youngsters have the talent to score tries and upset the Cheetahs’ momentum, but the biggest ask in effecting the upset will be rising above the hype.

PAST FIVE RESULTS IN BLOEMFONTEIN:

2006: CHEETAHS WON 37-35
2005: CHEETAHS WON 17-3
2004: CHEETAHS WON 30-22
2003: SHARKS WON 28-25
2001: CHEETAHS WON 36-28

Cheetahs: 15 Bevin Fortuin, 14 Phillip Burger, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Hendrik Meyer, 11 Gavin Passens, 10 Willem de Waal, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Ryno van der Merwe, 7 Darron Nel, 6 Kabamba Floors, 5 Bian Vermaak, 4 Rory Duncan, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Ollie le Roux (c). Reserves: 16 Jaco du Toit, 17 Kobus Calldo, 18 Quinton Davids, 19 Heinrich Brussouw, 20 Falie Oelschig, 21 Gaffie du Toit, 22 Eddie Fredericks.

Sharks: 15. JP Pietersen 14. Odwa Ndungane 13. Waylon Murray 12. Bradley Barritt, 11. Brent Russell 10. Francois Steyn 9. Ruan Pienaar 8. Ryan Kankowski 7. Jacques Botes 6. Warren Britz (c) 5. Johann Muller 4. Steven Sykes 3. BJ Botha 2. Bismarck du Plessis 1. Kees Lensing Replacements 16. Skipper Badenhorst 17. Deon Carstens 18. Johan Ackermann 19. Keegan Daniel 20. Scott Mathie 21. Butch James 22. Gcobani Bobo.

Referee: JC Fortuin.

By Jon Cardinelli