Rob Houwing

WP, Sharks on the back foot

2013-08-12 07:16
Rob Houwing (File)
Cape Town - If consistent home wins are going to be pretty near non-negotiable for success in a tight-looking 2013 Currie Cup, then both of last year’s finalists already have a bit of catching up to do after round one.

Champions Western Province had to salvage a 24-24 draw at home to the Blue Bulls on Saturday - a result that would have felt morally like a win to a raw, slowly regrouping visiting team - whilst runners-up the Sharks came off even worse in a shock 32-30 Durban loss to Griquas the night before.

Both coastal powers are under some pressure to deliver the goods in the domestic competition, after failing to qualify for the Super Rugby top six in their slightly different respective clothing.

So these first-up outcomes were decidedly not what their managements (in the case of the Sharks, a wholly new panel) would have wanted or expected.

Instead we saw some sense of continuity from Super Rugby with excellent out-of-town victories for both elements of the unusually forceful Cheetahs 2013 franchise (Free State and Griquas) and the commendable Newlands stalemate for the Bulls, losing semi-finalists in the now more prestigious SANZAR competition.

Certainly every score-line from the first weekend of Currie Cup activity only gave credibility to the theory that this season’s hostilities will feature healthy elements of strength versus strength right up until the reintegration of big batches of Springboks to the major unions two weeks or so ahead of the October 26 final.

By spoiling the first-game “party” for the likes of John Smit and Brendan Venter in the remodelled management team at Kings Park, even relative minnows Griquas served fresh notice of how tough they will be to beat on their rock-hard Kimberley surface, in particular.

There are, simply, desperately few fixtures that you can peruse in the round-robin phase and then confidently suggest “comfortable home win”.

The heat is on cup-holders WP to bank one in their second successive Newlands fixture, against the Cheetahs on Saturday (strangely an evening kick-off that clashes with a good part of South Africa’s Castle Rugby Championship opener against Argentina at FNB Stadium).

It is a pity because the game features two sides who have just about retained the spine of their Super Rugby line-ups a few weeks earlier, despite a fair tally of Bok call-ups each.

If the blue-and-whites fail to triumph then, they will fairly closely have matched their poor start to this season’s Super Rugby, when the roster controversially obliged them to play the Bulls and Sharks away in their first two games and they were duly beaten each time - it was a backs-to-the-wall situation from which they never really recovered despite a gallant late charge up
the table.

At least in the Currie Cup the scheduling trend has been reversed with two home encounters to begin with for Allister Coetzee’s squad, but one of them has already been a relative hiccup - there can be no doubting that the Bulls will be far happier with their two log points than Province are from Saturday’s meeting.

Without ever firing on all cylinders - and their front five took quite a pounding at scrum-time under the new engagement dispensation - Deon Fourie and company seemed to nevertheless have solid control at different stages against the Bulls, notably when they led 14-3 at one stage in the first half and then 21-9 on the hour mark.

But complacency appeared to creep in, not helped by flyhalf Gary van Aswegen’s game unravelling into a sequence of errors after a sprightly start to the match, and the pack clearly losing steam as the Bulls eight increasingly gained ascendancy.

Eventually Province had a tricky-angled, vital conversion miss by Tony Jantjies to thank for even grabbing the draw.

As for the Bulls, they ought to only get better considering the extent to which they fielded a new-look and rookie-heavy side in Cape Town ... self-belief blossomed for them the longer the game went on.

They now have an opportunity to go one better and gain a win when they host Griquas at Loftus on Friday night - the Bulls claimed last year’s corresponding clash 35-20, although they were thumped 49-34 in their visit to the “Big Hole”.

Mind you, just imagine how sky-high confidence will go among Pote Human’s charges (the Griquas coach is an ex-Bulls mentor, don’t forget) if they can complete a stirring double by knocking over the Sharks and Bulls juggernauts in successive weeks in their own strongholds?

If the first round is any gauge, the 2013 Currie Cup will confirm suggestions of its supposedly looming “death” as an important playground greatly exaggerated ... somehow, it always does.

Next weekend’s fixtures:

Friday: Sharks v Lions, Durban, 17:05; Blue Bulls v Griquas, Pretoria, 19:10. Saturday: Western Province v Free State Cheetahs, Cape Town, 18:00.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    sharks  |  wp  |  currie cup  |  rugby

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