Currie Cup the one to watch
IT IS probably a little hypocritical for a guy who's desperately seeking two R600 tickets to the Springboks/All Blacks game to say this, but I'm probably keener on watching the Currie Cup than I am on the Four Nations this year.
If you're wondering what the Four Nations is, it's the name the intrepid leader of our sports department has decided to call the Rugby championship, so from here on in that's what it'll be called on these pages.
Be that as it may, there's an unshakeable sameness about the upcoming Four Nations tournament, despite the inclusion of Argentina to the old Tri-Nations.
The new boys are scrappers who punch above their weight and love nothing more than building bakeries from the crumbs they're offered by the opposition.
But one gets the impression the tournament will be the same regardless: Richie McCaw will still be a thieving bastard, Dan Carter will carry on being irritatingly perfect, Kurtley Beale will goose-step with impunity and Morne Steyn will, well, kick the brown stuff out of the ball.
More to the point, the All Blacks will probably end up winning.
With the Currie Cup one hasn't got a clue what's going to happen, as all but two of the sides (Free State Cheetahs and Griquas) in the six-team strength versus strength format are testing out their young talent.
And what talent was on show in the first round.
Led by the sensational Sharks utility back Paul Jordaan, these are laities who make no apologies for their ability.
At 1.80m and 88kg, the flyhalf/centre is a slip of a man in modern rugby terms, but he has power, skill and searing pace.
Word from the Shark Tank is that his bench press ranks right up there with the forwards at around 150kg, and this shows in the incredible way he can absorb contact. And heaven help the poor sod who decides to take on the 20-year-old in a foot race.
If Jordaan is the devil we know a little about (thanks to Super 15), Cheetahs winger Raymond Kofi Rhule is the beast we're only starting to learn about.
Having bullied the youngsters alongside Jordaan at the Under-20 World Championships, the Ghana-born Rhule, also 20, took his strong-arm tactics to the seniors on his Currie Cup debut last weekend.
With his first touch, he dropped his shoulder and bumped the rabid Michael Bondesio out of his way.
He then scored a fortuitous try (from a forward pass) and then left his calling card with a classical finisher's effort later.
Up north, the Bulls have unearthed a new Bob Skinstad in former South Africa under-20 captain Arno Botha, while Jaco Reinach's son Cobus (Sharks) may have commentator Hugh Bladen raving "Hier's spoed! Hier's spoed! Hier's spoed!" yet.
Of the players already familiar to us from Super 15, fullbacks Andries Coetzee (Lions) and Willie le Roux (Griquas) have carried on from where they left off.
Coetzee's default setting is having a go, while Le Roux is the only white guy I know who draws the same applause as Sonny Bill Williams for his outrageous skill from my (predominantly black) rugby watching group.
Of the older guys in the competition, Butch James ran the Lions' win over the Cheetahs like it was 2007, while Bulls winger Akona Ndungane remains one of the most underrated players going about his work.
Last but not least, the Lions' Hendrik Roodt has stopped merely walking, talking and looking like a Bakkies Botha-type lock and started playing like one.