Currie Cup

Lions open up Currie Cup race

2014-09-13 22:14
Ruan Combrinck (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Western Province’s stranglehold on the Currie Cup 2014 race thus far has been loosened, if not yet thrown off.

Had they beaten the Golden Lions at Ellis Park in Saturday’s headline match, to make it a formidable six wins from six starts, a home semi-final would have seemed a near-certainty even with a full four rounds of pre-knockout activity left.

That still looks a very good prospect, and they probably remain smartest money for a possible home final too ... but a runaway table-topping finish has suddenly become that bit less likely for the blue-and-whites.

A fired-up and fleet-footed Lions outfit, brushing aside a period of inconsistent form, were enormous value for their 35-33 victory in an exhilarating exhibition of running rugby, and by earning five log points to WP’s desperately late-banked one, advanced to within four points of Province.

It was a deceptive score-line, given that the visitors had been put to bed as the Lions registered five tries in opening up a commanding 35-19 advantage before a spirited second wind - considering the way they’d been pinned back for large passages - netted Juan de Jongh’s side two converted tries in the dying minutes to make it look more of a volatile humdinger than deserved to be the case.

The WP skipper got his maths wrong in lauding his charges on television afterwards for their eleventh-hour surge, saying that they’d banked two bonus points - in fact, they ended with only three tries rather than the four he clearly assumed they’d achieved from a breathless encounter.

But they had clawed back a modicum of self-respect late on, considering how rare it is for a WP (or Stormers in Super Rugby) combo to leak so many tries themselves.

That they did so was indicative of the fact that the no-nonsense efforts of the Lions pack ensured a huge territorial monopoly, and in a high-tempo clash forced Province into a constant tackling mode that took a physical and stamina toll - they were looking less and less adhesive defensively until the mini-comeback just before and then well after the final siren.

The competition leaders can claim mitigation from the surrender of two starting XV forwards - flank Siya Kolisi and hooker Stephan Coetzee - to injury before the finish of the first quarter.

In the case of the last-named player, it forced a particularly ring-rusty Scarra Ntubeni into a full hour of action off the bench - all too often in retreat - at high altitude.

But the Lions had some casualties of their own, including what appeared a pretty serious leg injury to lock MB Lusaseni who went off on the buggy.

They had several inspirational characters on the day, and none more so than their low-centre-of-gravity No 2 Armand van der Merwe, who gave WP all sorts of problems with his barrelling runs in a performance reminiscent of the go-forward someone like Lukas van Biljon used to provide in either a Springbok or provincial jersey.

This game arguably only enhanced the likelihood, through its quality, that these two foes – now 1-1 in meetings in this year’s Currie Cup – will go all the way to the showpiece on October 25.

Also intriguing is the fact that they play exactly the same quartet of teams in the remaining run-up to the semis: Griquas, Pumas, Cheetahs and Sharks.

Somewhere, the Lions may need to eke out an extra win if they are to stand a chance of eclipsing Province to top spot after ordinary season.

The giant-killing Pumas had something of a humbling correction on Saturday as they were beaten in Kimberley by in-form Griquas, a result that saw them slip one notch to third and with several tough fixtures ahead.

Was the 30-30 outcome against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein a good or bad result for the defending champion Sharks?

It may have been good in the sense that it snapped a two-game losing streak, but it was also a bit damaging because they had seemed on course for a morale-boosting win until the Free Staters’ unerring flyhalf Willie du Plessis landed a high-pressure penalty in the 81st minute to see each team register two log points from the stalemate.

The Sharks thus stay fourth, a full eight points off the lead.

Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams first):

Friday, September 26

Lions v Pumas - 19:10

Saturday, September 27

Western Province v Griquas - 15:00
Blue Bulls v Sharks - 17:05
EP Kings v Free State Cheetahs - 19:10

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    golden lions  |  currie cup  |  johannesburg  |  rugby

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