Western Province and the Lions look to be the form teams, but beware the Pumas.
Jimmy Stonehouse’s men are making the most of their promotion to the Premier Division of this year’s Absa Currie Cup and are well on their way to challenging for a place in the semi-finals.
As we edge closer to the halfway mark of this year’s competition, the Pumas remain the dark horses and should they continue to produce the kind of form they’re currently showing will be among the title contenders in a few weeks’ time.
The Pumas claimed their biggest scalp of the 2014 competition when they beat the defending champions, the Sharks, in Nelspruit on Friday. They are still unbeaten on home turf and showed no-one will go to the Lowveld this year and find the going easy. In fact, they’ve made the Mbombela Stadium something of a fortress.
The defeat was the first for the Sharks this campaign, leaving them in fourth place on the points table. The Pumas are third, with three wins from four matches.
But if the Pumas have been the surprise packages, Western Province and the Lions have lived up to their billing as favourites to go all the way this year. The Capetonians are the only unbeaten side of the competition following their hard-fought victory at Loftus Versfeld against the Bulls on Saturday. In a tight affair, the visitors wrapped up the game with two tries late in the second half – Western Province’s backs proving too skilful for the hosts. They have 18 points with four wins from four and enjoy a three-point lead atop the standings.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for Allister Coetzee’s charges who battled to make an impression in Super Rugby earlier this year. But a change in approach which has seen Western Province play more with ball in hand has done the trick for them, with the likes of Cheslin Kolbe, Seabelo Senatla and Kobus van Wyk particularly effective out wide.
The Bulls’ showing was much-improved from previous weeks, but they seem to be lacking a cutting edge and their depth at flyhalf must also be concerning to the coaching team.
Another team who’ve caught the eye are the Lions. They showed plenty of promise during Super Rugby, finishing the campaign with seven wins, and they’ve kicked on in the Currie Cup.
They battled somewhat initially against the EP Kings, who matched them for pace and intensity in the opening hour, but the Lions’ bench and experience saw them home with a bonus point.
It was a very satisfying victory for Johan Ackermann who lost his captain Warren Whiteley late in the week to the Springboks and was forced to also make a number of changes among the backs. The Lions are now second on the log, while EP are still looking for their first win.
In Kimberley, the Cheetahs battled past Griquas, earning a bonus point win, but it was far from convincing for the men from Bloemfontein. They’re now fifth, but it looks as if they will battle to make the top four. Griquas are also winless after four rounds and it could come down between them and the Kings who finishes last in the standings.
Western Province will be confident of making it five out of five this weekend when they host EP, while the Cheetahs will be tested at home by the Pumas on Saturday. The Sharks should get back to winning ways when they host Griquas, while the Bulls face another big test when the Lions visit Loftus in the late game.
EP 22, Lions 41; Bulls 18, WP 23; Griquas 25, Cheetahs 36; Pumas 32, Sharks 22
Friday: WP v EP
Saturday: Cheetahs v Pumas; Sharks v Griquas; Bulls v Lions - The Star