Log standings prove the theory
Two weeks ago, following their defeat to the Golden Lions, there were dark mutterings in the Cape about Western Province being destined to come off the rails and missing qualification for the Currie Cup semifinals.
That was when WP coach Allister Coetzee first expressed his view that he wasn’t that concerned about it because “it’s a funny Currie Cup season”.
Well, it looks like he might be right about that, for after being fifth back just two rounds ago, his team is now top of the log on points difference at the halfway mark. And with fewer away games than home matches to come, he has reason to feel upbeat.
By contrast some of the teams that were in the pound seats a fortnight ago are now under pressure, no team more so than the Bulls, who after five games find themselves footing the Currie Cup log behind a rejuvenated Griquas side that is now only five points behind the log leaders.
On the subject of log leaders, by the way, there are really three of those. WP are in front because of their superior for and against differential, but they have the same number of points (15) that the Lions and the Sharks do. So there is a lot riding on this coming week’s game between the Sharks and WP at Mr Price Kings Park.
With only one away game to come after that, and these days the Bulls at Loftus aren’t the formidable prospect they used to be for the Cape side, it will be hard to stop Province’s drive to finish top of the log if they win in Durban. WP feel they gave away the game against the Sharks in the first round, as they did the one against the Lions, so they will be extra keen to reverse that this weekend.
That first round triumph for the Sharks at Newlands was an astounding result considering how much travelling they had been doing at the end of the only just completed Super Rugby season, but they haven’t really been able to convert the strong position they played themselves into.
NERVE AND COMPOSURE
They will probably be the first to admit that they let it slip against the Bulls at Loftus two weeks ago. While there was some phenomenal kicking from the Bulls’ Louis Fouche in that game, and the Bulls played their best game of the season to date, the Sharks gave away soft tries that contributed to their demise.
This past weekend it wasn’t a case of giving away soft tries, and they might have a legitimate gripe about referee Pro Lekoete’s decision to consult the TMO over an incident that happened two phases before what would have been a match-winning Louis Ludik try was scored and which arguably had no influence on the play.
Lekoete had waved play on after Dale Chadwick had collided with two Griquas defenders when Jean Deysel was carrying the ball, and the game went through another phase before Ludik went over. Had the try been awarded the Sharks would have been ahead for the first time in the game and with just a few minutes left it was unlikely they would have lost.
In the end, thanks to a Francois Brummer penalty with five minutes to go, they found themselves putting in a valiant last-ditch effort just to score the converted try that would force a draw – and they damn nearly made it.
Indeed, both games in central South Africa this weekend had similar endings in that in both of them the team that eventually lost managed to hold onto possession to sustain attack, with the help of two penalties, to four or five minutes beyond the hooter.
Both WP in Bloemfontein and Griquas in Kimberley deserve credit for holding their nerve and composure in the face of the late onslaughts. In both instances it could be said that justice was done, for the two better teams on the day won, with WP having particularly reason for being pleased with their away win as the Cheetahs had enough possession to test their commitment to the more balanced game they are espousing when placed under pressure.
Against the Bulls, WP just dominated the forward battle so much that it was impossible to say whether their new attacking approach might impact on their renowned defensive capabilities. But in Bloemfontein they showed an ability to do both, with some of the sniping, running and passing being top notch yet not more important on the day than the excellent defensive effort.
Talking of defence, that is one area that is letting the Bulls down badly, and perhaps there is some merit in the thought behind a tweet that was sent out on Saturday afternoon by a rugby scribe who suggested that Heyneke Meyer is having an impact on the current form of both the Bulls and the Springboks. The Bulls have lost some key management personnel to the Boks, who now stand accused of playing too much the old Bulls way, and their absence is starting to show.
WEEKEND RESULTS (home teams first)
GWK Griquas 22 Sharks 15
Vodacom Blue Bulls 23 MTN Golden Lions 32
Toyota Free State Cheetahs 22 Vodacom Western Province 29