Currie Cup

Lions now plan WP ambush

2013-08-26 10:23
John Mitchell (Gallo)
Cape Town – Playing well less than champagne rugby so far, and with their game philosophy under fire from former All Blacks coach John Mitchell, defending champions Western Province nevertheless top the 2013 Currie Cup table after three rounds.

Deon Fourie’s troops are also the only remaining unbeaten side – though they do have a draw to show – following the Blue Bulls’ nightmarish 62-23 home reverse to an awakening Golden Lions outfit in Saturday’s Highveld derby.

The Loftus result only tightened the logjam, suddenly bringing the Lions, who had lost both of their first two fixtures, right into the picture: WP (10 points) are one clear of the second-placed Sharks, though only four points separate top from bottom (the Bulls have slipped into the basement position, though two other sides are alongside them on six points).

Playing with refreshing pace and verve in Pretoria, the Lions ran in eight tries to their bewildered opponents’ three, and will train their thoughts with renewed relish to the visit to Ellis Park on Friday evening (19:10) of Province.

The Capetonians earned a second successive one-point victory by seeing off Griquas 20-19 in Kimberley on Saturday – they’d earlier pipped the Cheetahs 15-14 at a sodden Newlands – although the score only ended so close because the home team banked a bonus-point try in the final minute from a position of 20-12 down.

That said, in many respects Griquas had been the team more regularly on the front foot, forcing WP into an exhausting three-figure tackle tally and raising the eternal question of whether the blue and white hoops really do have enough, consistent grunt in their pack – bear in mind that the relative minnow home union were missing one or two key elements of their tight five.

As articulate SuperSport critic and ex-New Zealand and Lions coach John Mitchell noted afterwards, Province relied too heavily on their famed defensive organisation to eke out the win.

He said their attacking game depended on turnovers and a strong lineout drive, and that it had not significantly evolved in the four years he has been part of the domestic coaching landscape.

As a previous mastermind at Ellis Park, his views may help further raise the temperature for Friday’s appealing clash.

At least WP coach Allister Coetzee fully confessed to his team’s shortcomings in Kimberley, telling the Cape Times on Monday that “Griquas were really unlucky to lose ... we are unhappy with our performance”.

As for the Lions, they have truly roared back into contention after a two-loss start to the 2013 competition: their thrashing of the Bulls has been the standout result of the campaign so far.

It came close to being a record Currie Cup defeat for the Pretoria-based side, although the history books suggest that the 39-point margin fell short by five points of the 57-13 result suffered at the hands of the former Transvaal in 1994.

That was in the heyday of the Kitch Christie era as coach at Ellis Park and with Francois Pienaar as captain; many of that team went on to form the nucleus of the 1995 World Cup-winning Bok side.

Meanwhile the Sharks are right back on a more stable path after grinding out a valuable win in Bloemfontein, successive wins making up for that upset home reverse to Griquas on the opening weekend of the competition.

By no means are they firing on all cylinders, but should feel they can add to the current angst in the Bulls camp by beating them again at Kings Park on Saturday, when it is the prime-time television spectacle (17:05) on a weekend when the national side has a break from the Castle Rugby Championship.

Veteran pundit Naas Botha was downbeat about his beloved former franchise in his own SuperSport appraisal of the Highveld derby on Saturday, making the point that they currently field too many rookies who aren’t quite up to Currie Cup standard yet.

Was their spirited draw with WP at Newlands in the first round, when they might even have won, simply a false dawn?

Saturday may provide further evidence.

The remaining fixture (Saturday, 15:00) sees the Cheetahs try to restore winning ways in the platteland clash with near-neighbours Griquas in Bloemfontein – it won’t be a place for the faint-hearted.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    lions  |  currie cup  |  deon fourie  |  rugby

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