The two best sides according to the Currie Cup log positions proved that they are indeed the best on a Saturday that showed up the different approaches, strengths and shortcomings of each of the four semi-finalists.
It was interesting how Griquas dominated possession and territory but succumbed to the Golden Lions at Ellis Park through the home side’s dominance at scrum time, and especially their tight defence that leaked only one try to the very competent Griquas backline.
It was a tight match in real play-off tradition, with only one try being scored (from a driving maul) in the second half, with the Lionsm whon wre second on the log after the round robin, winning 34-19.
In Bloemfontein the log leaders Free State Cheetahs got their act together after halftime and outplayed the Sharks,who were in control in the first half by 51-30.
First phase rugby and more fluency in passing and support won the day for the Lions who bossed a general optionless-looking, one-dimensional Griquas at the line-outs as well where Springbok Marvin Orie’s strength in stealing opposition throws was again exhibited.
The Lions used their lesser possession more effectively, and their supporting players were on hand more often and ran more effectively, often winning huge distances through their running.
The Lions, when a break came, utilised their chances, the visitors not despite some good runs by especially former Maties centre Chris Smit that came to nought time and again.
For this, full marks to the Lions coaching staff whose charges plugged the few holes that did appear, and also brought frustration to the visitors who continued tried to drive and maul through the Lions pack with scant success.
Four tries to one tell the story of the Griquas woes, the Lions good defence and their better attacking play. But a single try in the last 40 minutes of the match didn’t make for much to enthuse over.
♦ In Bloemfontein, the Sharks seemed in full control until shortly after halftime when they 20-11 ahead. Aphiwe Fassi was he catalyst on attack, and their stronger scrum spoiled good possession to the home side.
The Cheetahs, although still looking generally more dangerous than the Sharks in the first half, wasted a number of first-half chances with poor handling and especially poor options. Had they taken these opportunities they might have been out of sight by halftime.
But then Fassi limped off two minutes after halftime and the Cheetahs took over after what was probably a half-time tongue-lashing by coach Franco Smith.
Their backs suddenly handled with precision, the support improved and the options were outstanding.
As it was, the injury to Fassi blunted the Sharks edge, but credit must also go to the Cheetahs forwards who suddenly got to the breakdowns quicker than before the break and then fanned out to contribute to the running performance that augers well for their Cheetahs Pro 14 campaign that starts in a few weeks’ time.
The Cheetahs scored six of their seven tries to the single brilliant individual try by Curwin Bosch after the break.
Points scorers –
Golden Lions vs Griquas
Golden Lions (21) 34: Tries: Madosh Tambwe, Stean Pienaar, Marnus Schoeman. Conversions: Shaun Reynolds. Penalties: Reynolds (2).
Griquas (13) 19: Try: Chris Smit. Conversion: George Whitehead. Penalties: Whitehead (4).
Free State Cheetahs vs Sharks
Free State Cheetahs (11) 51: Tries: Junior Pokomela (2), William Small-Smith, Ruan Pienaar, Joseph Dweba, Ox Nche, Jasper Wiese. Conversions: Tian Schoeman, Pienaar (3). Penalties: Schoeman (2).
Sharks (23) 30: Tries: Curwin Bosch (2), Sanele Nohamba, Lwazi Mvovo. Conversions: Bosch (2). Penalty: Bosch (2).