Five lessons from the seventh round of the Currie Cup, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Golden Lions are building strength in depth
The Lions are without two key players in No 8 Warren Whiteley (on Springbok duty) and flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff (broken arm), but they weren't missed too much against the Pumas on Friday night. Kwagga Smith carried the ball strongly, had a hand in Ruan Dreyer's try, and didn't miss a tackle; Willie Britz was named Man of the Match after making 112m from 10 carries, including two clean breaks; Derick Minnie played his part upon his return from a hand injury when he replaced Jaco Kriel with 20 minutes to go; and 20-year-old Jaco van der Walt controlled the game well at 10. Coach Johan Ackermann will also be pleased with the performances of tighthead prop Dreyer, who has proved to be a more than capable deputy to Julian Redelinghuys, and Armand van der Merwe, who has excelled since replacing the injured Robbie Coetzee. It all bodes well for the Lions ahead of next year's Super Rugby tournament, which requires strength in depth.
Armand van der Merwe was an astute signing for the Lions
The former Pukke and Leopards hooker has been outstanding in this year's Currie Cup, with Nick Mallett referring to him as an 'angry warthog'. The 23-year-old made another big impact during the 61 minutes he spent on the field at Ellis Park on Friday night, gaining 73m from four carries and helping the Lions scrum to smash the Pumas. He has also shown the ability in recent weeks to offload in the tackle and give try-scoring passes under pressure. If Van der Merwe can take his current form into next year's Super Rugby tournament he'll put himself into serious Springbok contention.
Look at the man you're passing to
The Blue Bulls were leading 12-6 at Loftus with time almost up in the first half when the ball went wide to Burger Odendaal on halfway. The centre was focused on the defender in front of him when he passed and didn't see that Lwazi Mvovo had come in on his inside. As a result, the ball went straight to the Sharks wing, who sprinted 50m to score a converted try that changed the course of the match. Had Odendaal looked at the man he wanted to pass to, he would not have let the ball go.
The Sharks are back in business
After two shock losses to the Pumas and Griquas, and a draw against the Cheetahs, the Currie Cup champions went into their match at Loftus on Saturday in fifth position on the log. They finished it in third, having claimed their eighth win in Pretoria in 10 matches. The Sharks scrum struggled during the first half, but their lineout was dominant and, unlike their opponents, they took the try-scoring opportunities that came their way. It was a crucial win for the Sharks, as while they should beat the Kings next weekend, their last two matches are against the two form teams in the tournament, the Golden Lions and Western Province. Sharks coach Brad Mcleod-Henderson will be particularly pleased with Lionel Cronjé's composed performance at Loftus. While the flyhalf missed his first two penalty attempts at goal, he came back strongly. It was his crosskick that resulted in S'bura Sithole's try and he nailed two touchline conversions and kicked two penalties. Pat Lambie could return for the Sharks after the Rugby Championship, as he's been on the Bok bench, but until then Cronjé has shown he can do the job.
The Bulls will battle to make the semi-finals
After losing to the Sharks at home, the Bulls will probably have to win their last three matches with bonus points to reach the play-offs. And it won't be easy against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, the Pumas in Nelspruit and Griquas in Pretoria. Frans Ludeke, who was re-appointed Currie Cup coach following two successive failures under Pine Pienaar, will be feeling the heat. As Nick Mallett pointed out in the SuperSport studio, the Bulls are trying to play more attacking, ball-in-hand rugby, but their players don't know where to run, with backline players cleaning rucks and forwards playing flyhalf. That doesn't reflect well on the coach.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images