The synergy between flyhalf Jacques Louis Potgieter and his centres will determine whether the champs flounder or flourish at Loftus Versfeld.
Free State may currently hold the title, but they travel to Pretoria this Saturday as underdogs. They don’t boast as much experience in their combinations, and in pressure positions like flyhalf and inside centre, they could be outgunned.
Potgieter began the 2008 Super 14 as the Cheetahs’ first choice pivot, but when the domestic tournament arrived, Naka Drotské dropped the 24-year-old and sent him to the Griffons. Then Chris Rossouw was out with concussion, and the experiment with Tewis de Bruyn at 10 failed. Potgieter was recalled and resumed his run at flyhalf with the kind of success that made one wonder why he was ever dropped.
This statement needs to be viewed in context. Potgieter has looked a better option than Rossouw or De Bruyn. He has the potential to ignite the Cheetahs backline and complements a player like Meyer Bosman. Free State are fortunate to have the attacking brilliance of Jongi Nokwe and Robert Ebersohn out wide, but they need a distributor of Potgieter’s quality to unleash that potential. Potgieter could pull something out of the bag this weekend, but the lack of opportunity to settle alongside Bosman and company could count against him.
Conversely, Morne Steyn and Bulls scrumhalf Fourie du Preez are a well established combination, while Wynand Olivier has improved playing on Steyn’s outside. The one weak link could be Marius Delport, the least experienced player in the Bulls backline and a player who is better known for his prowess on the wing. No doubt, the Cheetahs will target the Bulls’ No 13 channel.
The Bully Boys boast a better kicking game with both Du Preez and Steyn in fine form, and Zane Kirchner is no slouch in this department either. The Cheetahs management believe Potgieter to be a more attacking flyhalf, and so there could be minimal kicking on the part of the Cheetahs. It may seem an obvious mistake, but they can’t afford to surrender any possession.
A quicker flow will suit the Free State side, as they’ll look to exploit the attacking strengths of Nokwe, Ebersohn and JW Jonker. The Bulls are favourites up front, and will meet the Cheetahs’ challenge at the tackle point. But overall, they’ll aim to slow the play to suit their own brand.
A slow a game is slow poison for the Cheetahs. Potgieter will thrive in a looser contest, and although structure will be important in terms of parity, Free State will have to lure the Bulls into a helter-skelter spectacle if they are to have any chance of victory. Failure to do that will see the central union relinquish an Absa Currie Cup title they’ve held for three years.
By Jon Cardinelli
By Jon Cardinelli