Currie Cup becomes a ‘funny’ tournament
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee said it after his team’s win over the Blue Bulls and the weekend generally reflected it – this year’s Absa Currie Cup is a ‘funny’ tournament.
Both on the field of play and on the log there were big shifts.
For instance, Western Province went from being fifth before this weekend’s round of matches to second. The Sharks went back to the top, and now lead by what in this season’s competition is a relatively comfortable three points.
It may be reasonably comfortable, but maybe not too comfortable, for they could be back chasing if they lose to Griquas in Kimberley this week.
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On the field some of the teams weren’t recognisable from the ones that had played the previous week.
The Bulls, who were steamrollered at Newlands, didn’t look anything like the side that had been so emphatically superior to the Sharks at Loftus just seven days earlier.
And the Lions, in losing to Griquas on Friday night, didn’t have the Currie Cup champion look they had in beating WP in their previous game.
Then there is the Sharks, who in the space of 80 minutes against the Cheetahs probably took their fans through a whole kaleidoscope of different emotions.
“I think there might have been a few of our fans who watched the first half and then maybe stopped watching after that who will have been surprised by this result,” said Sharks coach John Plumtree after his team’s narrow win in Durban.
And he was bang on the money in saying it. He said he wasn’t too concerned by the Sharks’ first-half performance, but from the vantage point of the Mr Price Kings Park press box it looked every bit as woeful as the one against the Bulls.
The Sharks seemed just incapable of protecting and holding on to their possession, and it contributed to a bizarre 15-point halftime deficit in a match in which they camped for the most part in the opposition 22.
On no fewer than five occasions in the first half the Sharks were in the attack zone and then coughed up possession through elementary errors.
Indeed, they turned over way too much ball for comfort throughout the 80 minutes and Plumtree said afterwards that it will be something that he shall address.
But leaving Kings Park late on Saturday night you would not have thought the Sharks had struggled early in the game.
The first half had largely been forgotten, and rightly so, and instead what stuck in the memory was the compelling second-half performance, where the Sharks – not for the first time this season against the Cheetahs – stormed back to score four tries in the space of 40 minutes and win the game.
It’s tempting to say that there was a gear-shift but there wasn’t – there was just a subtle change of tactics and better ball-retention, plus of course the impact of the strong south-westerly that blustered across the field throughout the match but then dropped later in the evening.
Once the Sharks got going they looked like the champions in waiting that they may well be.
If you take just Saturday's action into account when looking ahead to the prospects for the rest of the competition, which you probably shouldn’t do in this ‘funny’ season, you would say there is a good chance of a repeat of the 2010 final at Kings Park between the Sharks and WP.
Province certainly did shake off the shackles in emphatic style in running over the Blue Bulls with a five-try demolition that would have made every other team in the competition sit up and take notice.
A lot has been written since the game about WP’s apparent new spirit of joie de vivre, but really it was the massive advantage the hosts enjoyed at forward that paved the way for victory.
Centres Marcel Brache and JP du Plessis were outstanding and proved once and for all that Rassie Erasmus didn’t make such a big mistake when he let Johann Sadie head north at the end of last season, but no-one was as good as hyped-up captain Deon Fourie and a pack that at stages of the second half just drove the Bulls into submission.
Like the Sharks, WP have a tough away fixture in the form of the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein to look forward to this week so Coetzee is rightly not counting any chickens just yet, but for now he has reason to be happy.
And a first four-try bonus point in the entire season – including both Currie Cup and Super Rugby – means there is at least one monkey off the WP back.
WEEKEND RESULTS (home teams first)
MTN Golden Lions 32 GWK Griquas 42
Sharks 34 Toyota Free State Cheetahs 32
DHL Stormers 42 Vodacom Blue Bulls 6