WP lead should be bigger
DHL Western Province have been rewarded for their consistency by ending the first half of the Absa Currie Cup in pole position, with their superiority being confirmed by an emphatic win over the Sharks at Newlands at the weekend.
The final scoreline was flattering to the Sharks, who were never in a game that they trailed 15-0 at halftime and 25-5 with 15 minutes to go.
The Durbanites were smashed in the scrums, struggled in the lineouts and, for most of the 80 minutes, came off second best in the collisions and the battle for the gainline.
But then those realities only serve to highlight something that should be a concern for the log-leaders: while they have been the most consistent team, and are the only unbeaten side at the halfway point, their performances haven’t translated into the emphatic wins on the scoreboard that their dominance should have demanded.
With just one more try to get to make it four and with nearly a quarter of the match remaining, it looked for all money like Province were about to bank their first full house of five log points this season in the Newlands match.
But as they did the previous week against the Lions, they fluffed their lines in the last 20 minutes, and instead it was the Sharks who struck back to claim a bonus point they hardly deserved.
That meant that instead of having a three-point advantage at the top of the log going into the second half of the competition, the WP lead slipped to just a solitary point in the last move of the game, when Kyle Cooper scored after the hooter.
And with the second half of the competition expected to be as tightly contested as the first half, the point given away could come back to haunt them.
So could the additional three that were surrendered in the last quarter at Ellis Park seven days earlier. Given how much they dominated both matches in the first hour, there should have been five-point hauls from both the last two games, which would have given WP a six-point advantage now.
And with just five matches to go, that would be tantamount to booking themselves home-ground advantage in the play-offs.
Instead they have to fight it out in what at the moment looks like a four-way battle involving themselves, the Sharks, the Lions and the Cheetahs.
And just as a reminder that it won’t get any easier for them, the Vodacom Blue Bulls stood up off the floor this past weekend to score an emphatic win over the Cheetahs and thus signal that Deon Fourie’s men are in for a tough match when they visit Loftus on Saturday.
In WP’s favour though is the knowledge that they now do seem to be ticking most of the boxes and are starting out on an upward curve on the performance graph.
The scrumming travails of the opening game against the Bulls, when they were also held to a draw in a game they led substantially for most of the way, are now long behind them, and they are a team that appears to hardly require the visit that will be made to them by scrum doctor Balie Swart this week.
Indeed, Swart helped the Sharks last week, and the destruction suffered by their pack against WP led to some snide remarks from the floor at the Newlands post-match press conference when Province coach Allister Coetzee announced that it would be his team’s turn to receive the former Bok prop’s advice.
FAR FROM SETTLED
Even though we are halfway through the competition, the form of most of the teams other than WP is still far from settled.
While it was possible to predict a Bulls win against the Cheetahs at home, few would have foreseen the margin of victory to the hosts, although admittedly they were much better in their previous match in Durban than the scoreline in that game would have suggested.
The Lions did well to win in Kimberley and to my mind they still remain the second-best team in this under-strength phase of competition behind WP.
Griquas are the team that should be kicking themselves though, for this was their second consecutive narrow loss on their home ground.
Had they won against WP two weeks ago and in this most recent match, they would be near the top of the log instead of languishing at the bottom, two points behind the second-last Bulls.
Still, there are only eight points separating top from bottom with five matches to go, so a lot can still happen between now and the moment when the play-off teams are finalised in October.
Kimberley: GWK Griquas 32 MTN Golden Lions 36
Pretoria: Vodacom Blue Bulls 26 Toyota Free State Cheetahs 10
Cape Town: DHL Western Province 25 The Sharks 19