Fat guys have influence once more
It was like old times in the opening round of the Absa Currie Cup as scrumming proved the significant factor in the two matches that ended in shock results.
They’ve done it in the early rounds in Kimberley before, but it’s a long time since GWK Griquas have beaten the Sharks on their home patch in Durban.
That they did so, thus increasing the pressure on a new and mostly young and inexperienced management team brought into position in controversial circumstances, was as much down to the scrumming of Ryno Barnes and Lourens Adriaanse as any other factor.
If Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer feels he is short of a tighthead, which has been suggested by his persistence in trying to turn Cheetahs loosehead Coenie Oosthuizen into a No 3, then he should look no further than Adriaanse.
The Griquas prop was part of the national squad for the incoming tour phase of the season, but has since been dispensed with.
On Friday night he showed just why he was selected in the first place, and raised questionmarks over why he was subsequently left out.
Apart from his powerful and disruptive scrumming that had the hosts on the back foot for much of the night and played an influential role in ensuring that Jacques Botes’s team didn’t get out of first gear, Adriaanse is also a better allround player than many tightheads.
Not that his scrumming should be looked at in isolation. Griquas skipper Barnes is known to be one of the better scrumming hookers around, and he played more than just a bit part in helping his team get the edge over the Sharks at the setpieces.
The Sharks conceded the game off the last move of the match, replacement Griquas flank Carel Greeff crashing over for the decisive try that enabled Nico Scheepers to clinch the win with his conversion.
They had done well to fight back from an early 13-point deficit to lead at halftime, but apart from the scrumming, it wasn’t the most organised performance from the Sharks and they failed to do the one thing that made them competitive in the under-strength phases of the Currie Cup during the John Plumtree era.
When the Springboks are present, the forwards are the Sharks’ strength. When they’re not, the Sharks are decidedly lightweight upfront. It’s as simple as that, and it’s why the Sharks have tended to top the log in the domestic competition in recent seasons playing with a lot more width than they sometimes do in Super Rugby.
The wet conditions in the second half mitigated against it, but in the first half there wasn’t anything preventing the Sharks from trying to bring the width they would have needed to be competitive when their forwards were being pummelled.
MUCH THINKING NEEDED
Clearly they have some thinking to do before they engage the Lions, also in Durban, this coming Friday night.
And much of the thinking and hard work needs to revolve around adjusting to the new scrum engagement laws, which DHL Western Province coach Allister Coetzee has admitted hands the advantage in this phase back to the heavier packs.
This factor perhaps partially explains why his team’s forwards were outplayed in that area by a Vodacom Blue Bulls team that was poor on their last visit to Newlands in Vodacom Super Rugby and was also poor, until late replacements were made, in the recent semifinal against the Brumbies.
The last Super Rugby league match was just four weeks ago and the semifinal two, so the seismic shift in the effectiveness of the Bulls' scrum, which should supposedly have been weaker after the loss of some Springboks and players departing for overseas, was nothing less than remarkable.
WP’s difficulties in adjusting to the new law would have been a big part of that, but at the same time you have to give credit to the Bulls’ coaching staff for the work that must have been done on their scrumming.
And there should perhaps also be acknowledgement that the players who started in the front row in the Currie Cup, some of whom were part of the strong scrumming finish against the Brumbies, are infinitely better players than the players who fronted the Bulls' scrum at the start in Super Rugby.
It’s too early to take a definitive line on who is struggling and who is not, and WP skipper Deon Fourie did say that his team had absorbed lessons in the scrums in what was their first exposure to the new laws – lessons that would be applied in the next match against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs on Saturday.
But for now it does appear that there should be agreement with the wise-crack of a journalist at the Newlands post-match press conference: it seems there might be place for "fat guys" in rugby again!
And if you think back to who the heroes were in the Currie Cup matches of a few decades ago, that may not be a bad thing.
Of course WP didn’t lose their game, but if you consider how much more continuity they bring from Super Rugby into the domestic competition, and the magnitude of their win against a full-strength Bulls side a month ago, the draw would have felt to Jono Ross’s understrength Bulls like it was a win.
And had Tony Jantjies landed the conversion of the Jean Cook equalising try, it would have been a deserved win, given their forward dominance.
The Sharks 30 GWK Griquas 32
MTN Lions 29 Toyota Free State Cheetahs 30
DHL Western Province 24 Vodacom Blue Bulls 24