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Well, well, who would have thought? But at the halfway mark of this year’s Currie Cup competition it’s again the Lions who are leading the way ... just as they did last year when they went on to win the title for the first time in 12 years.
After another disastrous Super Rugby campaign, not too many people gave the Joburg team much chance to shine ... especially not after head coach John Mitchell was suspended, assistants Carlos Spencer and Wayne Taylor were fired and interim boss Johan Ackermann decided to drop Joshua Strauss as captain and appoint JC Janse van Rensburg.
But after five rounds of action, the Lions are the team to beat.
They’ve shrugged off all that went wrong with them in the past eight or so months and are playing a brand of rugby that is exciting and commanding ... and their performances to date is evidence that Ackermann and Van Rensburg are seemingly a winning combination.
The Lions, though, are not the only side who’ve impressed, but Western Province, too, while the Sharks are also among the leading outfits. This is not at all surprising, considering the Stormers won the SA Conference in Super Rugby and the Sharks went on to play in the final.
All three teams – the Lions, WP and Sharks – have won three out of five and have 15 log points. In fourth place are the Cheetahs and they’re followed by Griquas who, with back-to-back wins over the Lions and the Sharks, are very much back in contention to make the playoffs next month.
Propping up the table are, surprisingly, the Blue Bulls.
With several star players now retired and playing elsewhere in the world and a handful of other players featuring for the Springboks in the Rugby Championship, coach Pine Pienaar and his charges are finding the going far tougher than many had expected.
Just a week after copping a 42-6 hiding by Western Province at Newlands, the Bulls suffered another defeat by the Lions at Loftus on Saturday.
It was not as one-sided as the match in Cape Town but the Bulls were still outplayed.
A brilliant Elton Jantjies led the Lions’ charge and he was backed up superbly by Lionel Mapoe and Alwyn Hollenbach ... with the flyhalf once again showing he is ready to be given a chance at Test level.
The Lions, as impressive as they were, will face another big test this weekend, against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Naka Drotske’s men will be hurting after going down narrowly to Western Province – their second straight defeat – and the Lions can expect a big backlash from Drotske’s men.
The big star for Allister Coetzee’s team was centre Marcel Brache, who is impressing each week.
A big coastal clash now looms against the Sharks, a side who will also be smarting after going down to Griquas in Kimberley.
It was always going to be a tough trip to the Northern Cape for John Plumtree’s men and so it proved ... the Sharks being bullied into defeat. All credit to Pote Human and his men, who’ve come back brilliantly for a top-four spot after starting with three defeats. – The Star
Cheetahs 22 WP 29; Bulls 23 Lions 32; Griquas 22 Sharks 15
Saturday: Griquas v Bulls; Cheetahs v Lions; Sharks v WP
P W L D Pts
WP 5 3 2 0 15
Lions 5 3 2 0 15
Sharks 5 3 2 0 15
Cheetahs 5 2 3 0 11
Griquas 5 2 3 0 10
Blue Bulls 5 2 3 0 8