As the Currie Cup reaches its halfway point this weekend, the two northern teams are the runaway leaders in this year’s competition and well on their way to topping the points table in a little over a month’s time.
Both teams have picked up all the points on offer from their four games to date (20) and enjoy a handy 10-point cushion atop the standings. Only a points differential of five separate the top-placed Lions (99) from the Bulls (94) in second place, with their eagerly awaited clash between the two at Loftus Versfeld next Saturday already being billed as the match that will determine who finishes first and second after 10 rounds of action.
Johan Ackermann’s men went top of the pile at the weekend after a convincing defeat of the Pumas in Nelspruit; the home side being reduced to 14 men on four occasions as referee Pro Legoete dished out four yellow cards during the game. Flanker Kwagga Smith was the big star for the visitors, scoring two tries, but it was his pack who laid the foundation for a powerful second half showing.
In Kimberley, the Bulls were too strong for Griquas, with their backs again standing out in a hard-fought clash. Coach Nollis Marais and the bosses at Loftus will be pleased the Bulls are again on the winning trail after a rather disappointing Super Rugby campaign.
Another new coach who’ll be pleased with what he’s seeing at the moment is Cheetahs boss Franco Smith. After a fairly lacklustre start to his tenure as head coach in Bloemfontein, Smith’s got his men playing typical Free State rugby and it’s won them two games on the trot, the latest against Western Province, who couldn’t go wrong early on in the competition. The Cheetahs have moved to fourth in the standings, while the second loss in a row for John Dobson’s men has seen them lose ground to the Lions and Bulls.
The Sharks also picked up an important win in Port Elizabeth, but Gary Gold’s side didn’t have it all their own way. The Kings enjoyed superiority in the first half and looked to be well on their way to picking up their first win of the competition, but the Sharks struck back in the second period and ran out narrow 24-20 winners. They’re fifth in the standings, while the Kings are seventh, having picked up just three bonus points.
Propping up the table are Griquas, who’ve managed to collect just a point so far from their endeavours.
With quite a few World Cup training squad Springboks back in the Currie Cup this week the competition is sure to intensify. Western Province, the Sharks, Bulls and Lions will all get back at least one key man who could make the world of difference considering injuries are now starting to set in at some of the unions.
The big game this weekend pits the Bulls against the Cheetahs at Loftus, while there should be wins for the Sharks, Western Province and the Lions.
EP Kings 20, Sharks 24; Griquas 32, Bulls 46; Pumas 11, Lions 41; Cheetahs 28, WP 21
Friday: Bulls v Cheetahs
Saturday: Sharks v Pumas; WP v Griquas; Lions v EP Kings - The Star
Original source: Lions, Bulls in a class of their own