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Rugby | Currie Cup

Sharks consolidate but Lions are back



Their narrow win over the Pumas in Nelspruit saw the Sharks consolidate their position on the top of the Currie Cup log but it was a weekend that showed them where their main opposition should come from.

The Durbanites would have known already that Western Province, though languishing in sixth position at one stage of the past weekend, would put up a spirited challenge. There is plenty of depth at the Cape union, which they showed in going through the Supersport Challenge season unbeaten en route to picking up that trophy early in the year.

WP had only won 50% of their games before playing the Free State Cheetahs but they owed their lowly position on the log more to the fact that they have games in hand on most opponents, and in some case more than one, rather than necessarily there being too much wrong with their play. They would have been disappointed to go down by one point to the Sharks two weeks ago and there was also a midweek loss to Griquas, but otherwise they are pretty much on track for a semifinal spot.

Although the Cheetahs were under-strength because of their PRO14 commitments on the same day (actually both Cheetahs teams conceded 50, which must be an unwanted record), the home team still impressed at Newlands with their ruthlessness. Perhaps they will be disappointed that they did not retain their relentless punishing of Cheetahs errors into the second half, when they emptied their bench and the visitors did play with some spirit, but the class they showed in all areas of their game should have been seen as a warning by the other Currie Cup contenders.

Ditto for the Lions, who were better than their 17-point winning margin over Griquas in Kimberley will suggest. The 2015 champions made a slow start to the season, which was understandable, as in the first few weeks the Super Rugby side was contesting the semifinal and final of that competition.

But gradually during the course of the domestic competition players from the Super Rugby team have been bled back onto the team sheet, and the effects are now starting to be seen. Whereas their home win over the Pumas the previous week was to be expected, the away win over Griquas was the product of a strong performance.

It is the Sharks though who are firmly in the pound seats when it comes to clinching top spot on the final log and thus home ground advantage through the play-off phase.

Although they have played two more games than third placed Western Province and one more than the second placed Cheetahs and fourth placed Lions, their advantage would still be comfortable even if those teams picked up five point log hauls from the games they have in hand.

When it comes to the order of the top four, this coming weekend is going to be an interesting one, as WP are poised to overtake the Cheetahs and jump into second position. However, should Province lose to the Pumas away on Friday, and we have seen enough evidence this season that Mbombela Stadium is not a happy hunting ground for visiting teams, then the Lions could be the team that will find itself in second position this time next week.

It will require them reversing their first round defeat to the Blue Bulls when the two teams meet in a Gauteng derby in Johannesburg on Saturday, but this is a different Lions team to the one that played then.

The Sharks, who scored their seventh consecutive win when they got home by two points in Nelspruit, face a potentially perilous trip to Kimberley on Friday, a venue where they have come unstuck in the past, but they are now playing with enough confidence to deal with the challenge.

WEEKEND RESULTS

Steval Pumas 25 Cell C Sharks 27

Tafel Lager Griquas 17 Xerox Golden Lions 34

DHL Western Province 57 Toyota Free State Cheetahs 14



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