• What we’ve learned

    Five lessons from the Currie Cup this past weekend, according to CRAIG LEWIS.

    Free State Cheetahs well placed to top log
    The Bloemfontein-based side last won the Currie Cup back in 2007, but there have been clear indications this season that they could break that near 10-year drought. With the Cheetahs boasting minimal disruptions from Super Rugby, they’ve secured good wins over Boland, the Blue Bulls, Western Province and most recently the EP Kings. With a game in hand, the Cheetahs are just one log point behind the table-topping Sharks, who they will face in a decisive clash in Durban next weekend. From there, the Cheetahs should back themselves to beat the Lions in Bloemfontein and then to bank a full haul of log points against the Pumas and Griquas.

    Bright future for Ox Nche
    The 21-year-old prop has worked his way through the Free State rugby ranks, while featuring for the Junior Springboks in last year’s U20 World Rugby Championship. This year he progressed to the senior stage and has been one of the bright lights on the Currie Cup scene over the first half of the season. Short in stature, Nche has honed an effective scrum technique to impressively perform his primary role at that set piece. However, it’s really been his mobility with ball in hand that has caught the eye, with the burly prop again showing his value as a ball-carrier against the EP Kings on Saturday. There’s no doubt that the young front rower is a player to watch for the future.

    Big challenge for Golden Lions to retain title
    Last year, the Lions were virtually unstoppable as they went through the entire domestic season unbeaten on their way to emphatically clinch the Currie Cup crown. The Johannesburg-based side then went on to finish as runners-up in this year's Super Rugby competition, with nine players rewarded with Springbok call-ups. It’s meant a relatively new group of players has had to step up for frontline duty this season, and while the Lions have secured good wins over the Pumas and Boland, they also suffered a shock defeat to Griquas. Coach Johan Ackermann largely selected his strongest available side for this past Friday’s encounter with the Blue Bulls, but they were comprehensively outplayed as they slipped to a second defeat of the season. The Lions have now fallen out of the top four, but do have a game in hand over the first-placed Sharks and third-placed Bulls.

    Blue Bulls boast determined defence 
    By now, there is not much more that can be said about the Lions’ much-vaunted running game that has received so many plaudits since last year’s Currie Cup. Although the Lions have fielded a relatively new-look side this season, they’ve continued to stick to their ambitious brand of rugby, but on Friday they battled to reap much reward against a determined and abrasive Bulls defence. The Pretoria-based side was forced to make an inordinate amount of tackles against the Lions at Loftus, but their determination and desire was exemplified just before half-time as they tackled themselves to a standstill, with the visitors launching a late onslaught some three minutes after normal time had elapsed. The Bulls maintained that effort after the break, conceding just one further try as they came away with a much-needed win.

    Rob du Preez can mastermind WP win
    Province had slipped to seventh on the log by the time Saturday’s clash with the Sharks kicked off at Newlands, and it had virtually become a must-win match if the hosts were to keep their playoff hopes alive. Importantly, for such a crucial encounter, first-choice Super Rugby flyhalf Rob du Preez returned to the No 10 jersey and certainly made his presence felt. The youngster combined superbly with Johnny Kotze as the latter scored the opening try in as early as the second minute, while he created three more tries through a well-executed chip kick, cross-kick and grubber. Du Preez also contributed nine points in a Man of the Match performance that has potentially reignited Province’s bid for a playoff place.

    Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

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    Craig Lewis