Currie Cup

Tough Currie Cup season ahead

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The standard of the rugby played was perhaps not of the highest order throughout, but the first round of the 2009 Currie Cup  this weekend pointed to a season where only the toughest sides will survive.

With a number of relatively serious injuries already a worry for the provincial coaches, Friday’s and Saturday’s matches made it clear that the competing sides’ depth could be the deciding factor.

The physicality could be attributed to the return of most of the old rugby laws under the global ELVs – just as the rather disappointing standard could be the result of new combinations and lengthy lay-offs from competition. What is certain, however, is that there will be no easy matches.

Griquas highlighted that in their away bonus point 28-18 win over the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Newcomers Leopards gave the Boland Kavaliers a struggle of note in going down 26-18.

But for some poor goal-kicking they would have been the winners in a damp Wellington.

The Lions, laughing stock after their 74-10 drubbing against the British and Irish Lions took pre-tournament favourites Blue Bulls to the wire at Loftus (19-13), and defending champions Sharks were handed a lesson in cohesion and effectiveness by Western Province, who won 29-15.
 
Pride of place for the weekend goes to Griquas, who have now added a third away win with their defeat of the Free State. The Natal XV and the Blue Bulls were their other away victims in the Vodacom Cup play-offs.

With their captain Jonathan Mokuena leading the way in winning possession for his side and spoiling it for the opponents by means fair and also often foul, the Free State three-quarters could seldom get their rhythm and speed going.

The try by Sevens Springbok Lionel Mapoe was, however, one of the highlights of this match.
 
Griquas’ forwards were immense – and although Griquas can hardly afford to lose him, it is time that the work and tactical planning of coach Dawie Theron was noticed.
 
Behind this impressive pack, Sarel Pretorius at scrumhalf was the hero, with his halfback partner Naas Olivier cool and commanding in playing the corners and keeping his side on the front foot.

This Griquas display followed a good start to the season by the Kavaliers, who dominated the first half against the Leopards earlier on Friday.

But once the newcomers from North West found their feet at this level, the Boland team could do little more than defend their lead with Justin Peach’s 16 points making the difference in a match where the visitors outscored the Kavaliers by three tries to two in the Boland’s 26-18 win.

These two sides are not there for the taking, that much was obvious. Western Province, with Willem de Waal in supreme form on the wet Newlands ground as well as his 19 points which kept the pressure on the Sharks in the 29-15 win, have suddenly put together a front five that can compete with the best.

Springbok hooker Tiaan Liebenberg was brilliant in the tight loose, while former Lions lock Anton van Zyl and All Black great Chris Jack made a difference with their willingness to add hard work in the rucks to their skills when those were needed.

Add the two locks’ honest scrummaging to the ability of props Wikus Blaauw and Brok Harris, who both also did their bit in the tighter phases, a brilliant Luke Watson in the loose and a good backline, and coach Allister Coetzee has the formula to go all the way.

The Lions dominated the first 30 minutes and were just about full value for their 13-0 lead at the break, courtesy of some poor kicking by the Blue Bulls at Loftus. But the Bulls scored 19 unanswered points after the break to win 19-13.

Full marks to new Lions coach Hans Coetzee, who has taken a few new faces and gelled them with some regulars and some old-timers into what is a very competent side.

Their near-success was built on a solid, aggressive defence which frustrated the Blue Bulls and a willing pack which contested the breakdowns with aggression.

Quick cleaning and secure handling saw the Lions keep up the pressure, but their fortunes changes when captain and fetcher supreme Cobus Grobbelaar left the field just after halftime.

The Blue Bulls suddenly had the quicker ball, and they took over control of a game that was a warning that there will be few easy matches in the Currie Cup.
 
The Blue Bulls missed six from nine kicks at goal, and the Lions three from six in what could have made a difference to both sides.

On the injury front, the coaches will have to sweat it out until Monday with four high-profile players known to be on the troubled list.

The Bulls Springbok fullback Zane Kirchner has a knock to the cheekbone which is feared to be a fracture and could keep him out of the Tri-Nations.

Sharks skipper Johann Muller has what seems like a serious arm injury; his Lions counterpart Cobus Grobbelaar has a bump to the leg and Springbok utility Meyer Bosman will miss eight weeks of Free State’s campaign with a broken hand.

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