PRETORIA – Many continue to question the quality of this year’s Currie Cup competition.
And almost every week a few individuals and teams respond emphatically that there is still a lot of life left in the oldest domestic competition in the world.
On Friday night, it was the turn of Junior Springbok Manie Libbok to quash any suggestions that the competition is a watered-down affair as he put on a near flawless display of running rugby to inspire the Blue Bulls to their first win in five matches.
The 20-year-old Libbok stood head and shoulders above anyone at Loftus Versfeld as he grabbed a hat-trick to help earn his side a morale-boosting 44-42 win over a stubborn Griquas outfit.
The fleet-footed Libbok produced a breathtaking solo run from 60 metres out for his first try in the 25th minute, before being the recipient of a good offload from lock Aston Fortuin deep within Bulls territory as he sprinted all of 80 metres.
The third try of the night may have required a bit more assistance from his teammates after prop Dayan van der Westhuizen broke free from the halfway line.
But Libbok, who could do no wrong on the night, found himself at the right place at the right time to receive a short pass from Edgar Marutlulle two minutes after dotting down his second try.
That, though, would be the final charge in anger from the home side as their tired legs could not keep up with the unrelenting spirit of a Griquas side that dared to dream of a rare but possible victory at the once fortress Loftus.
With the scalps of Western Province and the Free State Cheetahs to boast of, it came as no surprise that Griquas would mount a come-from-behind challenge, and they almost pulled off the win with three tries in the last 20 minutes. But they fell short by just two points as they ran out of time.
Griquas will feel aggrieved about their poor discipline, which ultimately handed the game to the Bulls, with the real difference being the three penalty kicks the hosts managed to slot over.
Otherwise it was Griquas who would have deserved the spoils on the night for some of the industrious rugby they played with ball-in-hand as they continued to exploit the brittle and inept Bulls defence.
The men from Kimberley ran in six tries from their direct and hard running opposed to the Bulls’ five tries, which came from Sibahle Maxwane, Dayan van der Westhuizen and Libbok.
While the Bulls had looked impressive and dangerous with ball-in-hand for most of the first half and bits of the second, they will have to make a massive step up in their defence if they are to remain in the top three sides and make the playoffs.
Furthermore, the shake-up by coach John Mitchell proved beneficial as the front-row of Lizo Gqoboka, Marutlulle and Van der Westhuizen were dominant, while the remainder of the pack held their own in the war of attrition upfront.
For Griquas, this may have been the victory that got away, but they will take heart from the bonus point they picked up on the road as it still keeps them firmly in the hunt with five matches remaining.
Who said that the Currie Cup was dead!
Blue Bulls 44 – Tries: Sibahle Maxwane, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Manie Libbok (3). Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (5). Penalties: Boshoff (2), Tony Jantjies (1).
Griquas 42 – Tries: Ederies Arendse (2), Christiaan Meyer, Wandile Putuma, AJ Coertzen (2). Conversions: André Swarts (3), George Whitehead (3).