The Springbok squad announcement by head coach Jacques Nienaber last weekend added extra spice to the United Rugby Championship final this weekend, specifically in either sides loose trio. Four of the 6 players taking to the field in the loosies have all been included in the 43 man squad and will be going head to head in the race for the title.
Whilst Marcell Coetzee has 30 test caps, with as many points, it has been quite some time since he has pulled on the Green & Gold. The other three being Elrigh Louw, Deon Fourie and Evan Roos, who have yet to earn a test cap. This makes the battle between the four this weekend, even more mouth watering as they look to prove their credentials ahead of their entry into the national training camp.
Marcell and Deon Fourie will be holding onto the number 6 jersey this weekend as they go head to head in their quest to establish ascendancy at the breakdown. Both players have had incredible seasons for their franchise and are well deserving additions to the Bok squad.
In Marcell you have a player and captain who has scored 10 tries this season, laying in 3rd overall. He is the only forward ranked in the top 5, amongst four wingers. He has been at the center of everything that has gone right for the Bulls this season, taking it a step further against Leinster where he recorded an incredible 27 tackles to keep the Bulls in the fight. He ranks 5th overall for tackles made this season and it is clear that he is the work horse of the Bulls pack. Coetzee roams the field and inserts his power where it is needed, whether out wide or directly through the rucks.
Deon Fourie plays a different roll for the Stormers. Fourie is a clinical fetcher and his ability to get over the ball and make steal after steal has allowed the Stormers to break down even the most structured attacking sides. Fourie leads the stats in turnovers won with a whopping 25 and you can rest assured he will be adding to this tally in tomorrows final. Having made the shift permanently from hooker to flank, his dogged nature on the ground is pivotal to the Stormers chances. He is also excellent with ball in hand and presents with a surprising amount of pace for a player who used to play in the front row.
The second battle is one that will have neutral fans heavily divided and that is between the two 8th men. Evan Roos and Elrigh Louw are two incredible youngsters who boast all the typical strengths that SA looks for in the position. With Duane Vermeulen out for the moment, they have everything to play for this weekend in the hope that they can pull on Thor's #8 on the 2nd of July.
In Evan Roos the Stormers have a large player with an even bigger engine. Roos has collected almost every award on offer in the URC thus far and his stats prove why. He is the one player who features in the top 5 of almost all the URC stats this season, ranking 1st for carriers with 142 (34 ahead of 2nd place). He is also first for defenders beaten with 53. The Bulls primary goal will have to be to curtail his running game and try to lure him into the breakdown battle as opposed to letting him play out in the wider channels. He is a player of great potential and will be looking to use the final as a further stepping stone on his way to the Springbok team.
Elrigh Louw is another who has been sublime for his franchise this year. Louw is also relied on heavily as a carrier and comes in 3rd overall in this department with 104 successful carries. Louw's stats dovetail those of Coetzee and it shows how interchangeable the rolls are in the Bulls loose trio. Elrigh is powerful off the back of the scrum and the Stormers will be well aware of his ability to generate go forward ball around the fringes. He is however the 3rd most penalised player in the URC, so his discipline will have to be on point if he is to avoid giving away vital 3 pointers throughout the final.
These are four incredible players who will go head to head this weekend, more than that, they are four players who are at the epicenter of what their teams are going to try and do come Saturday night. Which pairing will come out on top? My head says Coetzee and Louw but my heart goes the other way.