There are just four rounds to go in this year’s Absa Currie Cup, but for many this is where the domestic season starts, with the Springboks now back in action and the teams at last at full strength.
Gavin Rich writes for SuperRugby that what the latest weekend of Currie Cup rugby told us was that the log would have looked very different had this been a full-strength competition the full way. Vodacom Western Province have just four wins from ten matches this season, and are still in grave danger of missing the cut, but on Saturday they showed what they are capable of when they hammered the Vodacom Cheetahs.
WP have had the better of the Cheetahs ever since former Cheetahs coach Rassie Erasmus moved south at around this time last year, but this most recent victory for the Cape team was different in that it came in Bloemfontein. Not only that, but WP won at a canter, with the 35-17 victory representing the biggest losing margin at home for the Cheetahs in a Currie Cup match for quite some time.
Indeed, you have to go back to August 2006 for when last the Cheetahs lost at Vodacom Park in a Currie Cup fixture, and with Jean de Villiers grabbing an intercept to clinch the bonus point with just minutes to go, Province could feel well pleased with their effort.
That is particularly so if you consider that this was the first time this team has played together since the win over the Lions when they made their last appearance as the Stormers in the Super 14. And it was not as if WP were on top of their game either. Too often their attacks looked uncoordinated, passes went behind the man — all a typical symptom of combinations not having played together.
This should be seen as an ominous warning for future opponents, for it indicates that this WP team is going to get better. And with mostly minnows to come, starting with the Falcons this Saturday, before the final big league match against the Xerox Lions at Newlands, Province’s slender hopes of clinching a place in the semifinals are still alive.
The really encouraging game from a South African viewpoint and in terms of generating interest was concerned, however, was the late one in Durban between the Sharks and the Vodacom Blue Bulls.
Both teams missed opportunities, and yet both of them managed to grab a four try bonus point in a fixture which crackled from first minute to last.
The Sharks thoroughly deserved their win for most of the way they clearly looked the better team, and the more direct approach introduced under John Plumtree is already showing signs of paying off in handsome fashion.
All of the Sharks players were good on the day, but Ruan Pienaar showed again that this must indeed be a country over-flowing with scrumhalf talent if he can continue to be ignored at national level (actually, it is, for Ricky Januarie was also superb in Bloemfontein), while Brad Barritt, Frans Steyn, Wynand Olivier and Marius Delport all showed that this is a country not lacking in midfield talent either.
Waylon Murray, a centre moved to wing, looks the part in his new position too, while it was good to see Springbok JP Pietersen return to the field as a replacement and score his first try of the season for the Sharks after a long fallow period.
That should give him confidence, and with Adrian Jacobs likely to be back in the reckoning for this coming weekend, the Sharks selectors have a few headaches to deal with before the Cheetahs match.
The win means the Sharks are four points clear at the top of the log, and a win over the Cheetahs in Durban on Saturday will make it hard for any other team to thwart their goal of clinching top spot, which would secure a home final if they got that far.
What this past weekend showed though is that nothing should be taken for granted, for if the Sharks finish first and WP fourth it would be a brave man to predict the winner of a semifinal between the two coastal teams, regardless of where it was played.Tweet