Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies and examines the key head-to-head battles of Saturday night’s much-anticipated United Rugby Championship final between the Stormers and the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium.
These are the key battles within the war to settle the score:
Marvin Orie v Ruan Nortje
Experience versus youth. Orie’s a seasoned campaigner who doesn’t make waves per se but whose value lies in his consistency, while Nortje’s a more noticeable contributor and looks to be South Africa’s next big thing at No 5.
Make no mistake, Orie has a good motor and gets through a fair amount of work, but his Bulls counterpart is a next-generation second-rower and unquestionably in better form. The 23-year-old has taken out the Ironman award for racking up the most game time over the course of the regular season (1,394 minutes) and boasts the second-most lineout steals with nine.
Orie is joint-15th in the above category with five and given that it’s set to be a wet-weather arm-wrestle, the lineouts will be extra important come Saturday night. Will Orie use the platform to prove a point or will Nortje cap a cracking campaign with another towering display?
Deon Fourie v Marcell Coetzee
As different as they are stylistically, the two titanic figures have so many similarities. At their very core, they are dogs of war – veterans with indomitable spirits, who put their bodies on the line and fight for every inch every second of every game.
Bloodied, bruised or battered, they keep on coming no matter what. They are terminators who pop up everywhere, outwork and outlast 99% of their peers and were both, up until their inclusions in the Springbok squad last weekend, criminally overlooked as kings of consistently world-class performances.
Former hooker Fourie, in his second act, has emerged as a forager of the highest order, using his low centre of gravity and quickness to swoop in and snatch an unrivalled 25 turnovers and earn his first Springbok call-up.
Coetzee, meanwhile, has once again proven he’s one of the game’s greatest and most complete back-rowers, the Bulls’ talismanic captain leading the tournament in offloads (37), sitting joint-second on the try-scoring list (10) and featuring in the top five of a number of other categories to finally earn a Springbok recall.
Evan Roos v Elrigh Louw
Arguably the best way to bill this blockbuster battle is under the tagline future shock. Dynamic, destructive and undeniable, both blue chippers have taken the URC by storm and forced their way into the Springbok squad after the national coaches initially indicated they’d have to bide their time until after next year’s World Cup.
At 22, both have the world at their feet and have made a strong case to succeed Duane Vermeulen and whoever shines the brightest on Saturday night may well secure the No 8 green and gold jersey for the opening Test against Wales in Pretoria next month.
It’s truly the unstoppable force against the immovable object, the faster, more explosive and rangier Roos against the more pragmatic and possibly more powerful Louw. The former tops the tournament in successful carries (142) and defenders beaten (53) with the latter third in the successful carries category (104), while both have scored four tries.
Manie Libbok v Chris Smith
As if the pressure of playing in the first URC decider wasn’t enough, the wet weather will amplify and intensify the flyhalf battle that much more. It sets up a fascinating final test of the temperament, tactical nous and overall skill of two of South Africa’s emerging flyhalves, one of whom is bound to come out better than the other.
Who will steer their side through the storm? Libbok, the tournament’s leading points-scorer (161) and the Stormers’ hero with his clutch match-winning kick last weekend, who’s revelled and more than repaid John Dobson for the faith he’s shown in him to emerge as the surprise package of the season?
Or Smith, himself a last-gasp match-winner with his drop goal that sunk the Sharks in the quarter-finals, a more traditional No 10 than attack-minded Libbok who’s grown in leaps and bounds, is third on the top points-scorer list (138) and shown what eye for talent Jake White has?
Damian Willemse v Harold Vorster
Following the trend of opposites colliding, Willemse’s a bedazzling ball player, a multi-talented playmaker who after starting his career at flyhalf and moving to fullback, where he’s played most of his Test rugby, has now seemingly found his perfect position.
His Man of the Match performance against Ulster was the stuff of legend, a showcase of guts, passion and skill that highlighted his importance to the Cape side. His superior kicking game will be of great benefit in the rain, while he’s also good over the ball like he showed last weekend, however, he IS injured, so to what extent his bad elbow holds up remains to be seen.
Vorster’s not one-dimensional; he has nifty offloads and dangerous dinks, but his mould is that of a specialist hard-running inside centre. He’s understated yet central to the Bulls’ success, as White said earlier this season: “Harold is the kind of player who simply doesn’t receive the praise that he deserves. Whether he plays with Morne Steyn or Chris Smith inside him, he’s the voice of that backline. I don’t want to take anything away from a guy like Cornal , who’s played extensively for us there previously but is performing so well at 13, but Harold .”
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