Flyhalves continue to hog the spotlight
There was something predictable about the man-of-the-match awards handed out after the three final round Absa Currie Cup matches this weekend -- all of them went to returning Springboks.
As is so often the case, the international players proved a cut above the rest upon their return from test match rugby, with lock Eben Etzebeth being adjudged the best Western Province player in their 36-15 win over the Cheetahs. But after all the hype around flyhalves recently, it was perhaps even more predictable that players in that position should win the other two awards.
Perhaps it was the easy way out for the adjudicators, for after all it was Patrick Lambie who all eyes were on in Durban and likewise, once it was made known that Elton Jantjies wouldn’t play more than a short cameo role, the deposed Bok flyhalf Morne Steyn at Coca-Cola Park in the late game.
There were certainly other players in both games who could have won the awards, but with Johan Goosen out injured for the end of year tour, you could sense the relief that the two solid flyhalf performances brought the South African public.
You could argue of course that Lambie, playing pivot for the first time since the early part of the season, wasn’t really up against anyone.
Griquas lacked the intensity we saw from them in their home games and in both clashes with the Lions, and perhaps they always knew that going to Durban to clinch a semifinal place was just a bridge too far for them.
But it was still good to see the Michaelhouse old boy mixing it up and creating space for players around him, be it with his little chip kicks or clever distribution. Those who want to see him in the mix for No10 on the end of year tour would have considered it a start.
A day later Steyn was never more than solid, certainly not spectacular, and he was the first to admit afterwards that it was easy playing behind what on the night was a dominant Bulls pack. When it comes to this watered down version of the famous old Currie Cup, the Bulls did save the best for last, though the under-strength Lions did not help themselves with two give-away tries in the last quarter.
FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL
It might have been a contest were it not for the botched quick throw that led to the first gift try and then the Butch James tap instead of a pass that resulted in an interception. But the Bulls did score five tries to two to underline their superiority, and the thing about Steyn wasn’t so much his general play -- his tactical kicking was accurate enough -- but the fact that for the first time in a long while he landed his shots at goal.
Whether or not that will be enough to get him the starting position at No 10 for the three tests on the end of year tour is debatable, as the question mark over him surely hovers over what he brings, or more particularly doesn’t bring, to the Springbok attacking game. But there are potentially two games remaining for Steyn to make a point and while the turn-outs at the Saturday matches weren’t an overwhelming vote for full-strength rugby, the fact they are semifinals will bring plenty of hype.
The Sharks, WP and the Bulls were all very impressive in the way they dispatched their opponents, with the latter at least ensuring that there won’t be any promotion-relegation game in their future. That unfortunate lot falls to the Cheetahs, who scored two late tries to save some blushes but otherwise were comprehensively outplayed by WP to end their disappointing season on a poor note.
Whether or not there should be promotion-relegation in a season where the teams play most of the rugby under-strength is of course a question worth asking. Whether it should even matter when nine tenths of the competition games are under-strength and tend to attract not much more than a man and a dog by way of spectators is also worth asking.
But nonetheless the Cheetahs, who unlike WP, Sharks and the Bulls appear to contract for Currie Cup as much as they do Super Rugby and therefore really shouldn’t be in this situation, will be fighting for survival when they play the first promotion game against the EP Kings in Bloemfontein on Friday night.
It’s mostly teams who use this competition mostly for preparation for Super Rugby that will be in the semifinals, with the Lions being the obvious odd one out. They were well beaten by the Bulls but don’t write them off against WP in the late semifinal because Johan Ackermann didn’t field his big guns and you should assume they will have continuity on their side.
The other semifinal sees the Bulls, who now have a chance to win a competition where they footed the log most of the way, travel to Durban to face the high-riding Sharks, who like the Lions should be able to strengthen their team with players who were rested last week.
Sharks 42 GWK Griquas 3
DHL Western Province 36 Toyota Free State Cheetahs 15
MTN Golden Lions 29 Vodacom Blue Bulls 50