Battle of the bantams
PRO14 SPOTLIGHT: Two talented scrumhalves, for many years on the periphery of national selection, will take centre stage in Port Elizabeth on Friday.
Sarel Pretorius is one of those unfortunate to never make the Springbok cut, even though he was selected for the Emerging Springboks more than a decade ago.
On Friday, at the Nelson Mandela University’s Madibaz Stadium, he will go head-to-head with Rudy Paige – capped 13 times by the Springboks between 2015 and 2017.
The 34-year-old Pretorius, formerly a Cheetahs stalwart, has a healthy respect for Paige.
In a career spanning 12 years, Pretorius has played close to 80 Super Rugby matches for the Cheetahs in two stints (2008 to 2011 and 2013 to 2015), 14 for the Waratahs and 70-odd Pro14 appearances for the Dragons.
He made his Kings debut against Edinburgh a fortnight ago.
Pretorius is looking forward to igniting old rivalries.
“Rudy has proven himself as one of the top scrumhalves in the country,” the veteran No.9 said.
“Having faced him on a few occasions, I can attest to the fact that he is one of the toughest opponents,” Pretorius added.
“Things will be no different this week when we take on the Cheetahs.
“I am convinced he will again be at his best and will provide great competition for any of our scrumhalves in the Southern Kings team that coach Deon Davids picks for the match.”
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The 29-year-old Paige represented the Bulls in almost 50 Super Rugby games. He represented the South African Under-20 side in 2009 and went on to feature 13 times for the Springboks – making his debut in a 64-0 win over the United States on 7 October 2015 in a World Cup match in London.
Paige returned the compliments, although the pre-match eulogizing will come to an end on Friday.
“The quality of the scrumhalves is unbelievably high in this [Pro14] competition,” The Cheetahs’ Springbok said.
“Everyone has their own, different strengths. This means that if you get an opportunity to play, you need to be at your best,” Paige added.
“Sarel is a really good player with plenty of experience.
“He is the kind of player that will keep you busy for 80 minutes. But for me, the most important thing is to make sure that I focus on my own game and give the best for my team.”
Fireworks can also be expected when the other No.9s in both teams – Stefan Ungerer for the Southern Kings or Tian Meyer for the Cheetahs – battle it out on the park.
While some of the focus will be on the battle of the scrumhalves, the overall historic rivalry between the two sides will add to the entertainment value – with both sides keen to get bragging rights in the first of three derby matches for the 2018/19 season.
“There is a lot of excitement for this game, because of how competitive South Africans are,” Paige said.
“Both teams definitely want the bragging rights for the derby. With that in mind, Friday’s game should be a really tough derby,” Paige added.
Pretorius added: “South African derbies are known to be some of the most exciting, and this weekend will be no different.
“Not only will the rivalry be evident on the field, but the fans too will want to be the ones bragging at the end of 80 minutes. We can expect nothing less than the best on and off the field this coming Friday.”