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Johannesburg – The new-format Absa Currie Cup competition promises to be a winner, if the three matches in the first round are a yardstick of what lies ahead.
The Sharks sealed a 25-23 win over Western Province at Newlands, six minutes from time while the Free State Cheetahs came back from a 23-6 deficit go down to the Golden Lions at Ellis Park, 43-20.
The Cheetahs were within reach at 26-20 before the defending champions turned on their magic in the final quarter for their bonus point win.
The Blue Bulls were under the cosh against Griquas at Loftus before a good second half saw them salvage the match 35-20, with both sides scoring two tries.
While the tension at Newlands, where the lead changed hands frequently, made it an exciting clash on a soggy field, pride of place must go to the Golden Lions.
They scored four very good tries, and did the basics well to be tops in every facet and in the match generally. The forwards did their work in the tight phases, the backs ran hard and effectively, and the options were generally very good.
Flyhalf Butch James quietly controlled matters and played a huge part in their win – and not only for his 21 points from eight kicks in eight attempts.
And while it was good to see that experience remains an important ingredient of the game, there were also some fine touches from newcomers like young winger Raymond Rhule, who scored twice for the Free State Cheetahs, Lions fullback Andries Coetzee who grows in stature in every match and a number of others who make this an exciting season.
Scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius, playing his first match for the Free State after his Super Rugby stint with the Waratahs, came on after halftime and did what coach Naka Drotské wanted.
“We had possession in the first half but somehow couldn’t score,” Drotské lamented afterwards.
That forced his hand to bring on some game-breakers including Pretorius.
It worked well with the Cheetahs scoring two very good tries through Rhule in the first quarter after halftime to creep right back into contention after a 23-6 halftime deficit.
Two great up-and-unders by flyhalf Riaan Viljoen, brought the Sharks back into contention after they trailed 13-3, and hooker Craig Burden scored two tries with the speed that had helped him over the years when he was still at centre.
With the scoreline changing hands frequently, Viljoen had the last say with a drop kick six minutes from time on the bitterly cold and wet night.
The Blue Bulls were given a hard time by Griquas’ forwards, but in the end it was the visitors to Loftus’ poor discipline that cost them a game they were controlling before the break.
Seven penalties by the Bulls flyhalf Louis Fouche in his tally of 25 for the match ultimately made the difference in the Blue Bulls 35-20 win.
There was nevertheless enough to show that the young Bulls will be a handful this season, and that Griquas could be there at the run-in. – Sapa