FS join bid for home semi
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Ashley Johnson on the rampage (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The Cheetahs were arguably the biggest beneficiaries in the 10th round of Absa Currie Cup matches this weekend, entering the hunt for a key home semi-final in a big way.
Their unexpectedly handsome 53-32 victory
over the Sharks in Bloemfontein on Saturday, with a full house of five log points, meant they moved to within only two points of both second-placed Western Province and the Sharks, who are trailing the Cape side in third only on a “for and against” basis.
The two coastal sides both crashed in the latest round, with Province coming away with nothing to show for their efforts against the still-alive Blue Bulls in Pretoria.
At least the Sharks pilfered a four-try bonus point to take back to Durban, with Jacques Botes squeezing over in the 74th minute to make the margin of defeat a little less embarrassing.
But the Cheetahs have picked up a head of steam at a good time, and their four-match round robin run-in programme isn’t the worst in the world, either.
Naka Drotské’s charges face a critical fortnight with a visit to Newlands for the headline fixture against WP next Saturday, followed by the visit to “Bloem” of the unyielding Golden Lions who are now 10 points clear at the top.
If they win one of those, and then also relatively promising-looking final games against the Pumas and Griquas respectively, they ought to be right in the frame for a home semi.
With their teenage flyhalf Johan Goosen again hugely influential in all facets of play, the Cheetahs were full value for the statement-making outcome against a Sharks side strangely lacklustre on the defensive front at times.
It was a situation exploited by the likes of Ashley Johnson, the burly loose forward doing everything he could to match the running yardage of Danie Rossouw, that monumental presence in the Springboks’ impressive World Cup thrashing of Fiji just hours earlier.
So a three-way scrap is fast taking shape for second place on the final table, assuming that the Lions don’t mysteriously go off the boil in the next four weeks from their status at the head of the pack.
You could argue with some merit that they are not yet assured of top slot, given that their remaining matches are all against Test unions - Bulls at home, Cheetahs away, WP at home and Sharks away.
The Bulls would have been delighted just to win in the Loftus “north versus south” grudge match, keeping their own semis quest alive even if they failed to cross the whitewash for a fourth try in what was ultimately a hard-fought 28-20 win.
When Gary Botha’s side opened up a 20-3 lead in the first half, a runaway triumph seemed a fair prospect, and a more confident, ruthless Bulls side of old might not have let a particularly wet-behind-the-ears WP outfit claw their way back into the match, which is instead what transpired.
In a dramatic, thrilling passage of uninterrupted play for almost five minutes after the siren had sounded, both teams came close to getting an additional try and it would have been an especially rewarding occurrence for the visitors had they claimed their own fourth touchdown, because they would have grabbed not just one but two bonus points.
There is no let-up for Province, because they have about as stiff a three weeks ahead as you could imagine, before they wind up their campaign at home to the Pumas.
Their big problem is that for all the undoubted talent at their disposal - much of it U21 or only just beyond it - they do not currently have an experienced enough “spine” to the team which could yet prove costly as the competition heads for another nail-biting climax.
Getting a Pieter Louw, a JC Kritzinger and one or two other more seasoned heads back into the brew soon for balancing purposes could be a necessary development.
The Sharks have a better chance to restore a winning habit speedily when they entertain Griquas next weekend, with the men from the diamond fields reeling from a shock - and potentially very costly - home loss to the Pumas on Saturday.Next weekend’s matches:
Friday: Pumas v Leopards, Nelspruit; Sharks v Griquas, Durban.
Saturday: Lions v Blue Bulls, Johannesburg; Western Province v Cheetahs, Cape Town.