Sharks can strike for top spot
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
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
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
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.
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