Five lessons from the opening round of the Currie Cup, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
Luke Watson's still got it
The 30-year-old EP Kings captain was a worthy recipient of the Man of the Match award in PE. He was particularly impressive in the first half when he scored a try from a lineout driving maul (after making the decision to kick for the corner) and was unlucky not to get another just before the break, when the ball was knocked out of his hands. The No 8 got around the field too, making 54m from 11 carries and one clean break, while being successful with all five of his tackle attempts. Watson had fallen off the radar a bit, because of injury and the Kings' Super Rugby relegation, but he showed on Friday night that he's still got what it takes to make a big impact at this level.
WP must improve their discipline
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee would have been pleased with his team's bonus-point win in PE, but disappointed with the three yellow cards they received. WP played 20 minutes of the first half with 14 men when Manuel Carizza was sent off for a repeat infringement. Just as the lock was about to return to the field, prop Pat Cilliers saw yellow for illegally collapsing a Kings maul, while winger Seabelo Senatla was sent on his way late in the game following a third offside infringement. All that indiscipline didn't cost Province the game, but it could do so when they come up against better opposition.
A red card can ruin a rugby contest
Griquas had to play 73 minutes of Saturday's match against the Sharks in Kimberley with 14 men after centre Jonathan Francke was red-carded for a spear tackle on SP Marais. I disagree with SuperSport commentators Warren Brosnihan and Bob Skinstad, who felt it only warranted a yellow card because another Griquas player had also been involved in the tackle. Francke had played the major role in dumping Marais onto his head and the Sharks fullback could have been seriously injured. I did, however, think Nick Mallett made a good point in the SuperSport studio afterwards when he said he felt the game had been ruined to some extent by the red card, and that a team should be allowed to replace the player who has been sent off, so that fans still get to see 15 against 15. The red-carded player could then be disciplined after the game with a five-man ban, so that he, and not his team, is punished. Had Griquas been able to bring on a substitute, they may well have won the game considering they finished just seven points adrift of the Sharks at the final whistle.
The Golden Lions are favourites to win the Currie Cup
The Lions won their last three matches of the Super Rugby season, and they carried that momentum into the Currie Cup with an emphatic win against the Blue Bulls at Ellis Park. Johan Ackermann's side played with great attacking intent and took the scoring chances that came their way. Unlike the other big unions, the Lions have not lost any players to the Springboks and they played like a team that has been together all season. Based on their performance, the Bulls could once again fail to make the semi-finals.
The Pumas will be tough to beat in Nelspruit
The First Division champions made a good start to their Premier Division campaign when they beat the Free State Cheetahs at the Mbombela Stadium. With the six Super Rugby 'anchor' unions (including the Kings) being guaranteed a place in the Premier Division for the next two years, only the Pumas and Griquas face the threat of relegation this season. If both of those non-franchise sides finish seventh and eighth in the Premier Division they will both play in a 2015 qualification round of eight teams. If one of those non-franchise sides finishes in the top six of the Premier Division they will automatically qualify for the 2015 Currie Cup with the other non-franchise team playing in a 2015 qualifying round of seven teams. However, if both non-franchise teams finish in the top six of the Premier Division, they will automatically qualify for the 2015 Currie Cup and there will be no qualifying tournament in 2015. Based on the good performances of Griquas and the Pumas this past weekend, and the poor performances of the Bulls and Cheetahs, that last scenario looks like a pretty good bet.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images