Currie Cup

Loftus visit: Lions feel heat

2013-08-19 11:30
Johan Ackermann (Gallo)
Cape Town -- The Golden Lions may be back in Super Rugby next year but a poor Currie Cup preceding it would hardly be the correct preparatory tonic.

Worryingly, they have made a poor start to the 2013 domestic competition, lying bottom of the six-team table after two rounds with just one losing bonus point to show for their troubles.

The tightly-compressed nature of the Currie Cup these days, with only 10 league fixtures scheduled per team ahead of the semi-finals, means that losing touch with the pace-setters fairly early can have crippling consequences.

So the Lions – for all their competitiveness at times in successive defeats to the Cheetahs and Sharks -- are under strong pressure not to go nought from three when they travel to Pretoria on Saturday (17:05) for the Highveld derby against the Blue Bulls.

Last year the minimum requirement for teams to reach the semi-final berths was five wins, so if the Lions crash at Loftus they might already be staring at the situation of needing that many triumphs from only seven remaining round-robin matches.

Failure to reach the semis (remember they ended a praiseworthy second on the ordinary-season Currie Cup log in 2012 before losing their home semi to eventual champions Western Province) would paint a pretty grim picture of their chances of at least matching the maiden Super Rugby performance of relegated compatriots the Kings, who won three games and drew one despite bringing up the rear overall.

It seems there is no lack of spirit in the camp under Johan Ackermann’s tutelage, and they are determined to bring through some home-grown talent, but it is also a harsh reality that the exit of many once-staple names from their ranks has had a detrimental effect.

For instance, when the Lions won the high-tempo corresponding Currie Cup derby 32-23 at Loftus last year they could still call on such crusty characters as loosehead prop and captain JC Janse van Rensburg (particularly missed for the way he led their assault at scrum-time), Callie Visagie, Jaco Taute, Butch James, Michael Rhodes and Bandise Maku.

All of those players are no longer available and the necessary rebuild will take time – something not really at their disposal with the heightened demands of Super Rugby so soon confronting them once more.

One thing in their favour is that no side in the Currie Cup has yet managed to win both of their first two games, only indicating the healthy strength-versus-strength element to the combat: just about any result seems possible, any time.

Griquas, for example, ran the Bulls reasonably close in the very Pretoria on Friday night, although the 15-9 outcome only indicated what a low-quality snore-fest that encounter was.

The Kimberley-based outfit finally have their first home game on their rock-hard surface this Saturday, when champions WP come to town (purist rugby-lovers’ delight, a 15:00 kickoff!), fortified by turning a 0-14 Newlands deficit against the Cheetahs into a gritty-turnaround 15-14 win in soggy and chilly floodlit conditions.

Griquas led 12-7 at halftime against the richer union from the south in the equivalent clash last year, although Province eventually ground out a 25-20 victory, and there seems no reason to expect anything but another nail-biter this time.

The lone Friday night fixture sees the Sharks, who belatedly banked a first win for the John Smit/Brendan Venter regime at Kings Park against the Lions, travel to Bloemfontein to play the Cheetahs (19:10).

At least the Currie Cup programme gets less interference from the superior demands of the national team next weekend, as the Springboks’ return Castle Rugby Championship match against Argentina in Mendoza only kicks off at 21:10 South African time on Saturday, some time after round three is fully done and dusted.

Next fixtures:

Friday: Cheetahs v Sharks, Bloemfontein 19:10. Saturday: Griquas v Western Province, Kimberley 15:00; Blue Bulls v Golden Lions, Pretoria 17:05.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    lions  |  currie cup  |  johan ackermann  |  rugby

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