Lions are making their point
The Blue Bulls slipped into the black hole, rather than the Big Hole, in Kimberley on Saturday afternoon, but events less than 200 kilometres away over the next two hours ensured that they didn’t quite drown.
When the Golden Lions beat the Toyota Free State Cheetahs for the second time this season, there should have been a sigh of relief from the Bulls that could have been heard in Bloemfontein. Had the Cheetahs won, as they should have been expected to do at home, the Bulls would have been more than the equivalent of one win behind any other team on the Absa Currie Cup log.
But the result in Bloemfontein match ensured that the Bulls are sharing their trepidation of a possible drop from the upper echelon of the domestic competition with the Cheetahs. Naka Drotske’s team failed to pick up a bonus point against the Lions, which leaves them just two log points ahead of the Bulls in the wooden spoon area of the log.
And what makes that interesting is the fact that the two teams clash at Loftus on Saturday night. Who would have predicted at the start of the year that it would be those two teams fighting for survival with four matches to go? The Bulls have way too much depth to be in the position they are in now, and the lack of representation in the Bok squad installed the Cheetahs as one of the early favourites to win the under-strength competition.
Not that the other teams are out of the woods yet when it comes to avoiding a promotion-relegation playoff with the top side in Division One, with only the current log-leaders, the Lions and the Sharks, really in a place where they can feel comfortable. Both of them enjoy an 11 point lead over the bottom-placed Bulls, which may be too many for the Bulls to make up on them, but WP and Griquas, who are six ahead, can certainly be caught if they don’t keep winning and the Bulls turn their form around.
Those two teams, who make up the rest of the group currently in the semifinal bracket, play off against each other in Cape Town on Saturday.
Before this last weekend you would have made Province overwhelming favourites, but now it is not so clear as there may still be some action taken against the two loose-forwards, Jebb Sinclair and Tyrone Holmes, who were sent off in a bizarre finish to their match against the Sharks.
Such has been the injury swathe that has cut itself through the ranks of the WP back-row forward resource base that flankers and No 8s are the last people they can afford to lose to suspension at such a critical juncture of the season.
WP coach Allister Coetzee has said there will be internal sanctions imposed on Sinclair and Holmes for “not channeling their emotions better”, and it seems he is hoping that they will both be available to face Griquas.
Until the last quarter, which ended with WP down to 12 men playing against 15, the Durban game was the match of the weekend in the sense that the two teams displayed a surprising amount of skill and intent on a field that was waterlogged due to persistent torrential rain earlier in the weekend.
Indeed, while WP were responsible for some dumb actions later in that game, there must be some blame apportioned to the referees and assistant referees as they should have taken a much firmer grip on proceedings far earlier in a match that had plenty of niggle right from the off.
The quality of the refereeing and TMO officiating has in fact been the down side of the Currie Cup season so far, with far too many blatant mistakes being made and just not enough assertiveness from match officials who simply too often look out of their depth at this level.
Not that “this level” is anything to boast about at the moment. There have been some good games but there have also been some awful ones, and while Griquas will rightly be rejoicing at their third win over a big team in successive weeks, the truth of the matter was that much of the defending was inferior to Varsity Cup level.
So just what the various unions are gaining with the view towards building for Super Rugby is debatable. Bok call-ups had already robbed the competition of quality and now the injuries that are the inevitable consequence of an overly long and arduous southern hemisphere season are starting to add to that, with teams being significantly under-strength at every level from international down.
One small mercy though is that the Lions are ensuring that flagging interest is maintained by remaining competitive in their quest to defend their hold on the Currie Cup trophy, and if they succeed in doing that it could embarrass the administrators who presided over the decision to promote the Kings to Super Rugby at their expense.
Whatever happens, at least the Lions won’t be relegated from the Currie Cup… Not this season, at any rate.
WEEKEND ABSA CURRIE CUP RESULTS
GWK Griquas 49 Vodacom Blue Bulls 34
Toyota Free State Cheetahs 23 MTN Golden Lions 38
Sharks 43 DHL Western Province 27