Currie Cup

Griquas no longer an easy Currie Cup win

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Last year’s champions against last year’s also-rans – and this time it is to determine the log leaders of this year’s Currie Cup when the Sharks play Griquas in Durban on Saturday.

Just as hard-fought should be the clash at Newlands on Saturday between Western Province and the Lions who have lost their two best loose forwards for the clash.

In Bloemfontein the question should be answered on Saturday whether Free State Cheetahs have turned the corner with a probable third consecutive win in the offing after four successive defeats – but the Boland Kavaliers will also be keen to show they can be competitive for more than just 40 minutes as they were against WP last weekend.

The fourth encounter, on Friday night at Loftus, sees a much-changed Blue Bulls side take on the Leopards in what should be a walkover. Griquas have had a fairytale first round, winning their first five matches before their balloon burst in the final minute against the Blue Bulls last Saturday.

Few expect them to beat the Sharks on Saturday – but then many didn’t expect them to perform with the measure of success they have in this competition.

They have worked hard, and as a warning to the defending champions, who have their captain Johann Muller back in the side, they have overcome the “fear” of playing away. Their record now boasts 11 wins against a solitary Vodacom Cup loss against the Bulls at Loftus.

They have worked hard on their set-pieces this week after being shaded by the Blue Bulls on Saturday – but then the Sharks also had cause for worry after they were put under immense pressure by the Lions who should have used their opportunities better to win the game – and Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford wondered how they let the opportunity slip.

Dawie Theron is a shrewd coach, and not only someone who knows how to let forwards gel.

He is a hard worker in identifying the weaknesses of the opposition and planning his tactics accordingly. It is common knowledge that the Sharks defend well, especially in their own territory but not always as well far out; their ability on the turnover is well-documented and they have a good pack and competent backs.

Theron is sure to tell his guys to guard against turnovers, to play the territories, to keep the ball close against a side that showed vulnerability against the Lions up front and then to run it straight and hard when close enough.

Erratic he may be, but it will pay the Sharks to keep the ball from Griquas fullback Riaan Viljoen. Either by drop or place kick, he could swing the game. But as important to their cause will be Naas Olivier, who with livewire, little scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius as his halfback partner must see to it that the Sharks are pinned in their own territory. Can Griquas do it in Durban? Yes, but the odds must be with the Sharks.

The Lions can beat WP at Newlands if they play with the same fire and tactical acumen they displayed against the Sharks. However, they will have to take their opportunities and tighten up their defence – and here one does not refer to defensive patterns but simply letting the man get away in one-on-ones.

Derick Minnie was outstanding when he came on as a replacement last weekend, but the loss of captain Cobus Grobbelaar as well as strong Willem Alberts will have an effect.

The Lions will also hope to be better on their own lineouts, contest as well as they did last weekend on the opposition ball and keep their scrum steady throughout and not in patches against a WP side that has some exciting talent but are slowly finding their feet.

Luke Watson’s influence, a tight five much more committed than the bunch that played in the Super 14 and a more balanced pattern with Peter Grant at flyhalf should see this match go WP’s way.

Free State should win the clash against the Kavaliers. They were much better than their results showed when losing their first four matches, and have a new-found fire despite the loss of a few stalwarts such as Wian du Preez, Cobus Calldo and Hendro Scholtz.

The Boland will have to be at their very best and the Cheetahs at their worst to see this one go the way of the Kavaliers – but it is not a game the home side should take for granted.

At Loftus, the Blue Bulls should take five points from the game against a side that seems overawed at the step up to the Premier Division.

The difference between a good amateur side and the professional outfits is simply wider than imagined, and unless the promoted sides are given a season or two – and a million rand or five – to adapt as Griquas have done so successfully before they are relegated, this scenario will be continued.

Entrenchment is not the most ideal way, but it will do wonders for stability in player movement and stronger competition from the so-called weaker sides.

This weekend’s Premier Division matches are (home teams first):

Friday:

Blue Bulls v Leopards, 7.10pm.

Saturday:

Cheetahs v Kavaliers, 3pm;
Sharks v Griquas, 3pm;
Western Province v Lions, 5.05pm.

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