Sport / Rugby

Heinz Schenk
5 minute read
16 Oct 2018
8:26 pm

The new (and unexpected) heroes of the Currie Cup

Heinz Schenk

The hallowed domestic tournament might be losing its shine but it still delivers players to look out for.

Hacjivah Dayimani of the Lions has battled with injury all season and has now undergone surgery. Picture: Getty Images

The Currie Cup reaches its playoff stage this weekend with the wheat separated from the chaff.

As always, the tournament – despite its increasingly lower profile – delivered its fair share of new heroes.

Some of them were probably expected, some were thoroughly unexpected and some have merely taken time to find their feet.

WESTERN PROVINCE: Kobus van Dyk

Kobus van Dyk of the DHL Western Province during the Currie Cup match between iCOLLEGE Pumas and DHL Western Province at Mbombela Stadium on August 31, 2018 in Nelspruit, South Africa. (Photo by Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images)

The Capetonians’ success can rightly be attributed to excellent coaching as well as the presence of several talented stars.

But every winning team needs an unsung hero and the versatile 24-year-old flanker has been exactly that.

Van Dyk has been an immense.

He’s made 70 tackles – ten of them dominant – carried tirelessly and even chipped in with 9 lineout wins.

Others will grab the spotlight easier than Van Dyk yet his worth is now undeniable.

SHARKS: Aphelele Fassi

Aphelele Fassi of the Cell C Sharks during the Currie Cup match between Cell C Sharks and iCOLLEGE Pumas at Jonsson Kings Park on September 07, 2018 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

Kings Park is rapidly becoming the home of South African rugby’s foremost black backline players.

It does indeed seem like the 20-year-old outside back will sooner than later join the likes of S’bu Nkosi and Lukhyano Am as a Springbok.

A keen cricketer, Fassi eventually chose rugby and hasn’t looked back.

He’s already scored three tries in this campaign, despite not always being a starter and has provided spark in a Sharks pattern based more on pragmatism than excitement.

Importantly, his defence looks promisingly solid.

LIONS: Hacjivah Dayimani

He’s probably still a bit raw around the edges, especially in terms of overall physicality and, to a lesser extent, defence.

However, no player has lit up this year’s campaign as much as this explosive No 8.

Dayimani has been unparalleled as an attacking flanker, scoring the second most tries and leading the stats in terms of carries and linebreaks.

He’s also been reliable as an extra lineout option.

With proper nurturing, this 21-year-old will become a star.

BLUE BULLS: Ruan Steenkamp

Ruan Steenkamp of the Blue Bulls during the Currie Cup match between Vodacom Blue Bulls and Xerox Golden Lions XV at Loftus Versfeld on September 01, 2018 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Johan Rynners/Gallo Images)

It’s been a strange campaign for the men from Loftus, fraught with uncertainty and inconsistency.

At least they can take pride in the never-say-die attitude of their reliable opensider.

Steenkamp has shrugged off an injury-ravaged Super Rugby season by doing what he does best: being uncompromising in the collisions, gritty on defence and even having a nose for the tryline.

If he remains fit, he’ll be a key part of the Bulls’ plans in next year’s Super Rugby edition.

PUMAS: Ryan Nell

Ryan Nell of the iCollege Pumas and Christopher Bosch of the Tafel Lager Griquas during the Currie Cup match between iCOLLEGE Pumas and Tafel Lager Griquas at Mbombela Stadium on August 17, 2018 in Nelspruit, South Africa. (Photo by Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images)

The word “journeyman” describes the stand-in Pumas skipper pretty well.

Nell has, to date, never been in one place for too long.

Yet in 2018, the 28-year-old could rightly reflect on a season where he made a substantial impression.

A former Blitzbok, Nell was the heart of a Pumas defence that tended to leak, completing 56 tackles – some of them quite crunching – and only missing five.

That’s some going given his side’s overall problems.

He also weighed in with three tries and four linebreaks, showcasing why the sevens setup came knocking in the first place.

GRIQUAS: Sias Koen

Sias Koen of Tafel Lager Griquas during the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, Final match between iCOLLEGE Pumas and Tafel Lager Griquas at Bridgton Sports Grounds on July 15, 2018 in Oudtshoorn, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

They breed them tough in Klerksdorp, which is just as well because you need to be hard as nails as a professional player in Kimberley.

The 24-year-old flanker has firmly found his home after a largely unsuccessful junior stint in Durban and certainly stamped his authority on this campaign.

Koen is a workaholic on defence, completing a season-high 89 tackles but balances that with some fine ability with ball in hand.

In fact, he made the most carries of any player.

The embattled Cheetahs could do far worse than loan him for their Pro14 campaign.

FREE STATE: Louis Conradie

Louis Conradie of the Toyota Free State Cheetahs during the Currie Cup match between Toyota Free State Cheetahs and iCOLLEGE Pumas at Toyota Stadium on September 21, 2018 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo by Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images)

These are dark days in Bloemfontein as the Cheetahs have their depth stretched to the max after a mass exodus at the conclusion of last season.

Six out of six losses in the campaign pointed to their struggles.

They did, however, manage to unearth another decent lock in the 22-year-old.

Conradie is an ideal lineout option at his height of 2.03m and showed some guts as a lionhearted defender.

If he can bulk up – 102kg is actually a bit light for a lock – the man from Paul Roos could become very accomplished.

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