Take the best players out of the equation and the few who are plying their rug by trade in between seasons out of the equation, and South African rugby’s quality cupboard looks very bare indeed.
That is about all one can say about the two Currie Cup matches played on Saturday that were both riddled with poor decision-making, poor handling, many turnovers and generally sloppy rugby.
How good the four South African franchises will fare in next year’s Super Rugby series is a matter of conjecture. The impulse is to predict a series of losses, even considering that the other Zanzaar partners will also lose some of their best.
Pumas vs Sharks
The Sharks, after being in control and leading 17-9 at halftime against the Pumas, conceded 18 points in the second half and scored only three themselves to lose their match in Nelspruit against the winless Pumas 20-27.
The Sharks have now won only one of their three matches to date. Their losses have come against the two non-franchise teams: Griquas who thrashed them 37-13 in the competition opener which was played on a wet field, and now the Pumas on Saturday.
The Pumas, with only two matches remaining, will be hard-pressed to make it to the play-offs, while the Sharks with three matches still to play have just a glimmer of hope.
The Sharks were up 17-9 at the break but could add only a single penalty in the second half when the Pumas forwards did their work splendidly and set the platform for the unlikely win – and the kicking of flyhalf Chris Smith who slotted them from all angles including the last kick from touch must not be underestimated.
His five penalties and one conversion brought them into the game, especially in the first half when the Sharks were rampant with three tries (only one converted by Curwin Bosch) with Smith keeping his team in touch with three penalties.
Smith’s last kick for a dangerous ruck entry to Craig Burden, with less than three minutes remaining and the lead only 24-20, made the game safe with at worst a possible draw in the Sharks sights. However, it was not to be for the Durbanites.
Pumas (9) 27: Tries: Francois Kleinhans, Simon Westraadt. Conversion: Chris Smith. Penalties: Smith (5).
Sharks (17) 20: Tries: Lwazi Mvovo, Kobus van Wyk, Curwin Bosch. Conversion: Bosch. Penalty: Bosch.
Blue Bulls vs Griquas
The Blue Bulls, like all three the losing sides this weekend, started off like a house on fire and were up 10-0 early in the match. In this match, where penalties abounded, a wager at that stage on the Bulls seemed safe and a big score looked possible.
However, – and this would go on for the remainder of the game – the Blue Bulls were simply sloppy at and too slow to the breakdown, the handling and options by their very dangerous backs somehow broke down when it counted, and silly errors were frequent – including an unforgiveable obstruction by flanker Wihan Vosloo which cost them a try.
They also opted to take all their penalties to the corner with no success against a well-drilled and strong Griquas defence by their pack. For Griquas their pack as a whole must be lauded. They were immense in stopping the attempted drives of the big opposing forwards.
And the Griquas backline somehow scrambled when needed and on many occasions prevented a score and gained huge territory with counter attacks.
One win from four matches puts the Blue Bulls at the bottom of the log, while Griquas are again top of the log and are well placed with their three wins from four to make it to the play-offs.
As Chris Smith did in the Pumas win over the Sharks the Griquas captain and flyhalf George Whitehead, who used his lesser and inferior possession well, kept his side in touch and then put them ahead with four from four conversions and three penalties for a personal tally of 17 points.
Blue Bulls (10) 15: Tries: Rosko Specman, Marco van Staden. Conversion: Manie Libbok. Penalty: Libbok.
Griquas (20) 37: Tries: Zak Burger (2), Eduan Keyter, Victor Sekekete. Conversions: George Whitehead (4). Penalties: Whitehead (3).