Sharks back in inside lane
Cape Town – A thrilling duo of matches involving the top
four teams on the Currie Cup table ended with the Sharks occupying pole
position for rights to a possible home final for the second time in as many
After yet another fluctuating, pleasing-on-the-eye contest
in Johannesburg on Friday, the Sharks edged the Golden Lions 31-25: potentially
a massive result in their drive for a Kings Park showpiece on October 26.
They entered the Friday night fixture under fresh pressure after
defending champions Western Province, helped by a heartening 20-minute cameo
off the bench from finally fit-again Schalk Burger, had squeezed past the
Cheetahs 29-27 in Bloemfontein just a short while earlier to open up a
four-point log lead.
But then Keegan Daniel and company came roaring back to
defeat the Lions, and would not have been overly concerned that they just
failed to add to their try tally of three so missed out on a bonus point.
Though back level on overall points (28) with WP, they have
a better points differential after eight rounds – plus seemingly the more favourable
two-game run-in to the semi-finals of the coastal arch-rivals.
There is a case for saying the Sharks have the easier game
Next Friday, for instance -- and even though they get a
shorter turnaround time than Province do -- it might be argued that they are
more likely to beat the ailing Blue Bulls at Loftus than WP are against the
never-say-die Lions at Newlands a day later (Saturday, 14:00, conveniently
ahead of the Springboks v All Blacks Test at Ellis Park).
Even more pertinently, the final weekend of round-robin play
then sees the Sharks boast home advantage against the very Capetonians, which
is a formidable aid all of its own.
So they’ve got the aces at present, even if this year’s
sprightly competition has been renowned for edge-of-seat games more or less
across the board.
What looks even more probable is that these two high-riders
will, at the very least, stage home semis now.
Former Bok coach Nick Mallett suggested last week that the
Sharks and Province were best sides of the six by a fair distance in 2013, and
Friday’s results only stretched both outfits’ advantage in terms of that
The third-placed Lions are a distant seven points behind the
two pace-setters – a lot to make up with a mere two rounds remaining even if
they do register a mild upset at WP’s home base.
A strange aspect of many of Province’s performances thus
far, even as they stubbornly remain the lone unbeaten side, is that they are
seldom finding best known rhythm and standards of consistency in matches yet do
have a dogged ability to eke out victories – it is a factor that must stand
them in pretty good stead for defence of their title.
Particularly hard to gauge is just how forceful their pack
really is: they blow hot and cold in the possession stakes.
One week they find themselves glaringly back-pedalling, only
to be read the riot act back on the training park and come out snorting the
Friday saw them often retreat into cowed ways; they could
only muster some 35 percent of the ball in the first half against the Cheetahs,
but improved to a fair enough degree after the break and can also always rely
on people like twinkle-toed Cheslin Kolbe or Gio Aplon to suddenly produce
influential tries out of nothing.
Meanwhile the Sharks – though their lineout stays a little
ropey -- are fast rediscovering a slick brand of up-tempo, “total” rugby, aided
by such advantages as the rising maturity of Fred Zeilinga at flyhalf and the
early, slippery impact being made by new recruit SP Marais from the last line
The Cheetahs improved enough, in their desperately close
shave against Province, to suggest that they should remain very much in the
semis frame even if one of Griquas or the Bulls convincingly wins the
remaining, basement-level battle of the current round on Saturday (Kimberley,
14:00) to cheekily announce fresh ambition for the last four.
Next weekend’s round
Friday: Blue Bulls v Sharks, Pretoria 19:10. Saturday:
Griquas v Cheetahs, Kimberley 14:00; Western Province v Golden Lions, Cape Town
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