Five lessons from the past weekend's Currie Cup matches, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Pumas are serious semi-final contenders
Only the Pumas and Griquas – the two non-franchise teams in this year's Currie Cup Premier Division – face the threat of relegation, but the former can stop worrying about that and start thinking about reaching the semi-finals. Jimmy Stonehouse's side won all of their matches on their way to the First Division title last year, and began this year's Premier Division campaign with a 28-21 win against the Free State Cheetahs in Nelspruit. They showed that was no fluke when they saw off the previously unbeaten Sharks 32-22 at the Mbombela Stadium on Friday night and got a bonus point for scoring four tries. With the big unions unable to select their top Boks at any stage of this Currie Cup (except those who Heyneke Meyer believes need game time) the Pumas will continue to pose a massive threat, especially at home.
The Sharks must improve their attack
The Currie Cup champions were guilty of lateral running in Nelspruit and while it didn't matter when SP Marais scored their only try, it did on other occasions. The Sharks won't have a problem qualifying for the play-offs, but a lack of try-scoring bonus points could cost them a home semi-final or final. After four matches, they have just one (achieved against the Pumas in Durban).
Griquas must improve their discipline
The Kimberley-based side had to play with 14 men for 73 minutes of their first-round match against the Sharks, after centre Jonathan Francke was red-carded for a spear tackle, yet lost just 31-24. They shot themselves in the foot again at home on Saturday, this time against the Free State Cheetahs, when No 8 Carel Greeff was sin-binned in the 14th minute for a professional foul and then committed another on his tryline in the 35th. Referee Jaco van Heerden had little choice but to pull out the yellow card again, followed by a red. The Cheetahs were leading 10-0 at that stage, and while Griquas did well to fight back to edge 18-15 ahead after 56 minutes, the visitors ran away with it in the final quarter. For the second time in four matches, coach Hawies Fourie will be wondering what might have been had his side played with 15 men throughout.
Western Province have become a great counter-attacking threat
Having just scored a try through Kobus van Wyk to take a 13-10 lead against the Blue Bulls at Loftus, you wouldn't have blamed Cheslin Kolbe for kicking the ball into the stands when WP forced a turnover near their 22. But the fullback opted to run back at the Bulls, with the ball going wide to Seabelo Senatla, who beat two defenders to score another important try. Province, in this tournament, have known when to attack with ball in hand from inside their half and when they should put boot to ball, and it's one of the reasons they are top of the log after four rounds.
Referees should refer marginal try-scoring passes to the TMO
The EP Kings were trailing the Golden Lions 7-0 in PE early on when good scrum ball went to George Whitehead, who passed to Shane Gates. The inside centre gave the ball back to his flyhalf on the run-around and he threw a long pass to winger Siyanda Grey, who scored a try. Except he didn't, as referee Marius van der Westhuizen called a forward pass after being advised to do so by one of his assistant referees. Replays showed that Whitehead's hands finished behind his body and that the try should have stood. All Van der Westhuizen had to do in this situation was blow his whistle after Grey had touched down and gone upstairs to the TMO to check the last pass. If the technology is there, use it.
Photo: Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images