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
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
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
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
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.
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
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing