• ‘Lions were torn apart’

    What former Bok coach NICK MALLETT had to say on SuperSport about the Currie Cup semi-finals on Saturday.

    FREE STATE CHEETAHS vs GOLDEN LIONS

    'It was an outstanding performance by the Cheetahs. Before the game, I thought it was going to be close, but I got it wrong. The Lions were played off the park with a style of rugby that they used in Super Rugby to dominate other teams.

    'Interestingly, the stats don’t really tell the story of this game. The handling errors were the same, the turnovers were pretty similar, the tackles were 80 to the Cheetahs and 70 to the Lions, but it was the ability to find space where the Cheetahs were so much better. Combined with their pressure defence, where they swamped forward and gave the Lions no room, this performance was not dissimilar to what the All Blacks do. The Lions were torn apart today by an exciting and varied attack and a very offensive defence.

    'I don’t want to be tough on the Lions, because they are a side that lost a number of players. Franco Mostert, Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Ruan Combrinck, Howard Mnisi, Courtnall Skosan and Andries Ferreira would have strengthened this team, but all of them have either gone overseas or are injured. So this is not disastrous for the Lions, they will have those players back for Super Rugby next year.

    'The Cheetahs played what was in front of them and they were absolutely magnificent. They held on to the ball well on attack and played with an improved defence. It was a Free State extravaganza today and the poor old Lions were played off the park. It just shows the importance of continuity.

    'There were some hits by Raymond Rhule that were staggering. But he wasn’t the only one. Their loose trio, Paul Schoeman, Uzair Cassiem and Niell Jordaan, were outstanding. The Venters, scrumhalf Shaun and centre Francois, played wonderfully well, Sergeal Petersen’s performance was deserving of his Man of the Match award, and Clayton Blommetjies played superbly at the back. What I loved about the performance of the Cheetahs back three today, was their handling skills and the interplay between them. This whole team showed confidence with ball in hand, confidence in passing the ball and great continuity.

    'Franco Smith finished the Super Rugby campaign in disarray. His team was struggling, they haven’t performed well and their defence was all over the place. They got it together in the Currie Cup and Smith and his coaching staff Daan Human (scrum coach) and Corniel van Zyl (lineout coach) as well as director of rugby Rory Duncan, all deserve a lot of credit for this Cheetahs turnaround. Suddenly the Cheetahs look like such a happy team. The big advantage of the Lions was when they went on the field in Super Rugby this year they always had a smile on their faces. Today it was the Cheetahs that had the smiles on their faces. If the Cheetahs play like that in the final, they are going to win the Currie Cup. It they can keep this team together, it’s going to be the Cheetahs of old that we loved: great on attack and great on defence.'

    BLUE BULLS vs WESTERN PROVINCE

    'I must give credit to the Province defence. There were times when the Bulls just seemed permanently in control of the ball, but WP hung in there through a combination of good defence and predictable Bulls attack.

    'We saw two good defensive sides, which made it a tight, typical old-fashioned derby with driving-maul tries and six or seven penalties. Both teams held the ball in hand, but what I liked about the Bulls was how much they ran it out of defence. They would make 50m up-field, but a handling error would break it down.

    'Province profited from the Bulls' mistakes to stay in this game. There was the interception from WP lock Chris van Zyl from which the winger scored and there were a couple of charged-down kicks. Those errors kept Western Province in the game despite the fact that the Bulls had control of the ball.'

    On the two semi-final referees

    'Rasta Rasivhenge was great in the first semi-final. His conversing with the TMO and the way in which they managed to handle a couple of difficult decisions were outstanding. Marius van der Westhuizen did an equally great job in the Loftus game.

    'When you finish games like this and you’re talking about the players all the time, it’s a massive compliment for the referees because it means that nothing controversial has happened that made a difference to the outcome of the game. Both referees can be really proud of their respective performances.'

    On the state of the Currie Cup

    'People were very critical that the best players have left, but my feeling is that it is very positive in the sense that we get to see young players who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to show that they can make the step up and play Super Rugby. We must remember the Currrie Cup is our third-tier competition behind international rugby and Super Rugby. The more chances we give to young players, the better it would be for our Super Rugby franchises, one would expect.

    'We’ve been talking a lot about how poor South African skills are, but we are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel in the Currie Cup.'

    Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

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    Nick Mallett