Johannesburg - The Pumas scored a good home win over the Free State Cheetahs to mark their return to the big time, but if you are looking for the early contenders for the 2014 Absa Currie Cup title, the first round of the competition will have pointed you in the direction of the Golden Lions and Western Province.
The supersport.com website reports, the Lions and WP, the 2011 and 2012 champions respectively, did it different ways but were the two most impressive teams in week one through the way they went about winning their openers. The Lions always started as favourites to beat the Blue Bulls at Loftus, what few would have predicted though was the margin of their win.
The Lions were full value for their 41-13 win too, with the hosts showing once more that the legacy of their former Kiwi coach John Mitchell lives on through their ability to run the ball to space and play a quick paced game, with Johan Ackemann, who worked under Mitchell initially, deserving a lot of credit for what appears to be happening at the union.
Ackermann’s influence is certainly being felt in the pack, which was where the Lions laid the foundation for their win. The lineouts weren’t great, but the Lions were the stronger team in the set-scrums and also got the better of the collisions as, with the help of an intercept try before halftime, they dominated the game from start to finish and clinched their bonus point try with a drive over the line near the end.
The result leaves the Bulls with work to do before they travel to Cape Town this weekend to play WP. They just look too predictable, and their scrumming has been problematic for a while now. Province, after the big Stormers win over the Bulls in Super Rugby at the beginning of July, will start as clear favourites in that game.
Many critics were predicting that their opener against the EP Kings might prove a banana peel for them, as it was the sort of big occasion opening to their life in the upper echelon of the Currie Cup that the Southern Kings thrived on when they entered Super Rugby last year. And for a while in the first half it looked as though the Kings might get it together to inflict an early blow on Juan de Jongh’s WP team.
Luke Watson, leading the side after what seems a long absence from top flight rugby in this country, was outstanding at No 8 and his first half exploits deservedly won him the man of the match award. However, the Kings’ attempts to quicken the play up and play a fast paced game came across as a little naïve, and while they did lead 11-10 at halftime, they were helped by the way Province conspired against themselves with their indiscipline which saw two first half yellow cards and one in the second.
Considering the halftime stats, which showed more than 60 percent possession to the Kings and 54 tackles made by WP against just 12 by the Kings, the second half turn-around was impressive and Province coach Allister Coetzee should have been pleased with the way his men went about overcoming adversity en route to a bonus point win.
It is a long time since WP/Stormers have started any competition with a bonus point win, and as it was regarded as a potentially difficult away game, they would have returned to Cape Town feeling they had enjoyed the perfect start.
The Sharks might feel that too, though their win over Griquas was one of those that has a bit of gloss taken away by the fact that the opposition were down to 14 men from an early stage of the game. As SuperSport analyst Nick Mallett said afterwards, there is no problem with the red card when a tip tackle is adjudged to have been executed, but surely a replacement should be allowed so that the sanctity of 15 against 15 gets preserved.
In both Kimberley and in Port Elizabeth the contest was undermined by the cards, with WP’s good start against the Kings being halted by being down to 14 men for 20 minutes of the half. That meant they had to spend a considerable amount of time scrambling and spoiling and the objective of improving the spectacle, which is surely what the supposed hard line by referees on “cynical” play is supposed to achieve, turned into the exact opposite.
The Cheetahs are not the same animal in Currie Cup as they are in Super Rugby as a considerable proportion of their players are contracted by Griquas, not to mention that some of their stars are now playing for the Springboks. But the Pumas win in Nelspruit was still a good one and will give them confidence for what lies ahead of them in their first season in the top flight since 2011.
EP Kings 16 DHL Western Province 35
GWK Griquas 24 Cell C Sharks 31
Golden Lions 41 Vodacom Blue Bulls 13
Mpumalanga Pumas 28 Toyota Free State Cheetahs 21