Currie Cup

Blue Bulls and Lions losing pace in Currie Cup

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There was a shift in fortunes in this weekend’s two most important South African rugby matches, with the Springboks stunned into a comprehensive 21-6 defeat against the Wallabies and Western Province outplaying the Blue Bulls in the true sense of the word and winning their  Currie Cup match at Newlands 25-19.

There were also sterling efforts from the Leopards who ran Griquas as close as it comes without winning when they went down 34-33 in Potchefstroom, while the Golden Lions showed guts and a lack of forward power in going down 20-16 to a somewhat sterile Free State Cheetahs side in Bloemfontein.

In the weekend’s other match, the less said about the Boland Cavaliers’ 48-3 drubbing by the Sharks in Wellington the better.

It was the Blue Bulls’ second defeat in two matches and they have now lost four and won five. Again not much was seen of their vaunted depth on Saturday – and the Pretoria-based side must be concerned as they face the Sharks this coming weekend.

There was some quality rugby played by Western Province. Two locks who are prepared to scrum and commit to the rucks was the result of Andries Becker’s call-up to the Springboks.

Together with hookers Tiaan Liebenberg and Deon Fourie, who are strong scrummagers with their props now that Schalk Britz is in the UK, the WP pack has been transformed in and outside of the scrum.

The same front row personnel is now a different proposition – and as the Wallabies showed earlier on Saturday, there is still very much a place for scrummaging in the game of rugby.

The Blue Bulls will have to forget the notion that they have Springbok aspirants in their pack – or make use of them by providing the technical support to challenge at this level.

The way in which Wicus Blaauw made Werner Kruger’s life an 80-minute hell was a revelation. The Blue Bulls – under pressure, one must admit – got the worst of the referee calls.

But to blame a referee for their own shortcomings will not wash and the Bulls will simply have to sort out these problems before they meet the Sharks.

A third loss on the trot could conceivably see the Blue Bulls miss the play-offs altogether, and then the return of their 10 Springboks will be of no comfort or advantage. Province, as they had done against the Lions, played a game of territory and penalties and did so very successfully on Saturday.

However, against the Sharks or Blue Bulls with those sides’ stars back, they will need to make more use of what should be fewer opportunities. One try is not good enough for the domination they exercised.

The same can be said of the Free State Cheetahs. They had all the possession, all the territory and dominated most of the play except for the tackling, a department in which the Lions excelled.

But the Lions were merely hanging in, as they had done against Western province two weeks ago. The Cheetahs’ Hennie Daniller, young No 6 flank Johan Wessels and prop WP Nel excelled.

Hooker Adriaan Strauss and No 8 Ashley Johnson also caught the eye and David de Villiers and company dominated the lineouts. Jano Vermaak, as always, excelled behind a beaten Lions pack, Derick Minnie worked hard in his fetching role and everybody tackled well. But that alone will seldom win matches.

Perhaps not the best, but the most pleasing Currie Cup match of the season was the clash between the Leopards who were at home against Griquas.

Former log leaders Griquas got their campaign back on track after three successive losses with a narrow 34-33 win and deserved the victory, but were made to fight and defend by a side that played a risky but pleasant brand of rugby and are slowly getting up to standard in their elevated company.

For the Leopards’ sake, and the sake of South Africa’s top-flight competition, they need to avoid relegation to continue on their upward curve next year – if the Currie Cup system is not changed, that is.

Captain and No 6 Wilhelm Koch, Bom Samaai on the wing and Jevon Bowles at centre showed a quality and exuberance that is good for the game – and a little more patience and experience in the side could still see a surprise or two in their remaining five games.

The Sharks simply ran over the hapless Boland Cavaliers in Wellington on Friday and scored eight tries in their 48-3 win, with three of the them going to Jacques Botes. The Cavaliers are disjointed, seemingly unmotivated and beset by injuries.

As it now stands, they don’t deserve to play in the Currie Cup premier division – and with the oodles of talent in that region, administration must take a large portion of the blame for their near-embarrassing performances.

The Cavaliers have scored only 10 tries against 58 conceded and after nine matches have a negative 300 points difference. The demoted Valke, in 14 matches last season, had a negative points difference of 392 and scored 38 tries while conceding 97.

The Boland side are seemingly headed to where the Valke are today, right at the bottom of South Africa’s 14 unions. It was not a prime performance by the Sharks.

They lost too many lineouts, didn’t have patience on attack and generally looked a little loose against a side that tried to defend but had little else to offer.

For the Sharks there was another injury to a prop through Pat Cilliers and coach John Plumtree no doubt can’t wait for the return of his front row from the Bok tour.

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