Titanic Currie Cup Semi final battles loom

Free State Cheetahs head coach Naka Drotske has a simple take on how to beat the Blue Bulls in Saturday’s Absa Currie Cup semifinal – even though he realises it is a monumental task: the Cheetahs need to dominate physically.

 

“You have to get on top of them physically,” Drotske told The SARugby Website.

“Yes, it might sound easy in theory, but if you want to beat them you have to hit them hard at the breakdown and dominate the collisions.”


Of course, the rough stuff aside, there is also the small matter of having to contend with the partisan Loftus Versfeld crowd – a prospect which seems a lot easier than having to go up against seven World Cup-winning Springboks and that’s not even counting Pierre Spies who missed out on the RWC due to illness.


“We know it’s a tough ask,” admitted Drotske, “but it’s all down to those 80 minutes on Saturday and we need to stay positive and switched on at all times, as anything can happen out there.”


The Cheetahs know more than anyone just what “can happen out there”, having beaten Western Province – away – in the 2004 and 2005 semifinals, before upsetting the selfsame Bulls in the ’05 Final in Pretoria to claim their first Absa Currie Cup title since 1976.


Drotske, who captained the Cheetahs to that dramatic 29-25 Final win over the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, added: “Sure, it would’ve been easier to have hosted a semifinal, but this is the hand we’ve been dealt… and we have to live with it.”


The defending champions have more than just a semifinal match at stake; they have not lost in an Absa Currie Cup play-off match since 2004 (in the Final to the Bulls) and they are chasing a fourth successive title.


“People tend to forget that we’ve actually got quite a young team at the moment,” said Drotske. “We’ve lost a lot of players since last year’s Final, so we’re in something of a rebuilding phase, too, you could say.”


The Bulls-Cheetahs semifinal kicks-off in Pretoria at 5pm, but the Sharks and the Xerox Lions – in another replay from last year’s semifinals -will kick things off in Durban at 2.30pm in the day’s first last-four match.


The Sharks, chasing their first title since 1996, swept all before them during the league phase of the 2008 Absa Currie Cup, losing just two matches en route to topping the log and booking home advantage in the play-offs.


“We’ve been steady all-round this season,” Sharks head coach John Plumtree told The SARugby Website in probably the biggest understatement of the season.


“I guess we could still work on our defence, but I’ve been really happy with the leadership within the squad and then, of course, our bench has done a great job too throughout the season.”


With the Sharks in pole position after the regular season, the Xerox Lions did things the hard way; becoming the last team to qualify for the semifinals last weekend – that despite losing 14-6 to WP in Newlands.


Meanwhile, as the Absa Currie Cup’s Premier Division reaches its crescendo, the various youth competitions in South Africa’s top domestic league are also nearing completion.


In the Absa Currie Cup Under-21 tournament, the ‘Group B’ Final between the Valke Under-21’s and the Griquas U21’s is taking place on Friday afternoon (live on SuperSport 1 and CSN at 4.45pm), whilst ‘Group A’ of the Under-21 league is now in its semifinal stages.


The ‘Group A’ semifinals will be contested between Free State and Western Province (second and third place respectively) and the table-topping Blue Bulls and the Golden Lions, with the winners taking part in the ‘Group A’ Final later this month.


The Under-19 version of the Absa Currie Cup is in a similar stage to the U21 tournament, with the ‘Group B’ Final taking place on Friday – between the Griffons and Griquas (live on SuperSport 1 and CSN at 3pm) – and the ‘Group A’ semifinals scheduled for

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