Currie Cup

Sharks can strike for top spot

2013-08-31 10:24
Deon Fourie (Gallo)
Cape Town – Currie Cup champions Western Province may learn to their detriment on Saturday night the cost of turning a once highly likely five-point away log haul into a mere two.

The predators waiting to pounce on their failure to bolt the door against the Golden Lions in a breathless, high-quality 31-31 draw at Ellis Park on Friday are the Sharks, who now simply need to register  Durban victory -- not even with a bonus point required -- over the embattled Blue Bulls (17:05) to seize command of the 2013 table.

It would be a handy device to boast going into next Saturday’s final series of first-round fixtures, when their very opponents in a coastal derby will be current leaders Province at Newlands in the feature game.

Should the Sharks unexpectedly slip up against the rookie-laden, rebuilding Bulls, the Cheetahs could also alter Province’s tenuous supremacy: they will draw level with WP by gaining a full-house victory over Griquas in Saturday’s 15:00 kick-off in what will probably be a sunny but ice-cold Bloemfontein.

Allister Coetzee’s charges, of course, would have been safe in their lofty position, regardless of the outcomes of remaining fixtures this weekend, had they matched their magnificent start in Johannesburg with a knockout finish.

Instead, after romping into a 25-10 half-time lead against the Lions and bagging as many as three tries well before the break with reminders of old-style “Province rugby”, they actually had to rely on a penalty strike from in front of the posts by Kurt Coleman on the closing siren even to bank the consolation of a draw and two log points.

Getting a draw on the road in the pleasingly strength-versus-strength competition this year is no disgrace anywhere, as captain Deon Fourie was quick to point out, but he and his troops will also be quietly seething about their failure to leave with a far rosier five points after this had seemed so feasible at one stage.

Still, say what you like about some highly-debatable, possibly very influential TMO calls during the full-blooded clash which mostly went against the visitors ... the Lions deserve full marks for the marvellous “gees” they displayed in turning the game so violently on its head and so nearly winning it.

They did gain the moral satisfaction of banking three points on the table (and shifting up to second for the time being) via the draw and also through being able to nick a bonus point for registering four tries to Province’s unbudging three.

While both teams would have had reason to wonder how to digest the result in the post-game dressing rooms – was it a gift from the orchard or a kiss from your sister? – the fact remains that they are very much in the cup hunt.

The Lions, especially, have burst into contention in a big way after successive losses to start with.

They have earned a productive eight points from a possible 10 against the Bulls in Pretoria and now the trophy-holders at home, and played with such passion and vitality each time that there is no reason to suspect they are any less worthy challengers for the crown – one they last annexed only two seasons ago – than the other five teams.

All this has come despite a fair amount of staffing turmoil at Ellis Park in recent months.

The peak of their troubles was probably losing their captain and staunch loosehead prop JC Janse van Rensburg to Bayonne, but compensation has come from the return to red-and-white jerseys of once-staple customers like Franco van der Merwe and Elton Jantjies, and emergence of loose forward dynamos like Jaco Kriel and Willie Britz.

Clearly the Lions are a very fit side, too: it was a point alluded to by their former coach and now TV pundit John Mitchell after last week’s humbling of the Bulls, and only borne out by their great second wind against WP despite the drawback of a mere six-day turnaround from that fixture.

The Lions’ next obligation is against Griquas in Kimberley.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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

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