The Absa Currie Cup Premier Division delivered another thrilling round of action this weekend as the home teams all failed to capitalise on their advantage, resulting in a full-house of away-wins.
The Sharks pipped the Toyota Free State Cheetahs 18-15 in Bloemfontein on Friday, and on Saturday DHL Western Province edged GWK Griquas 20-19 in Kimberly, while the MTN Golden Lions hammered the Vodacom Blue Bulls 62-23 at Loftus Versfeld.
The victory for the Cape side means they remain the only unbeaten team in the competition. The Lions victory, meanwhile, marked the biggest winning margin in the opening three rounds.
Vodacom Blue Bulls 23 (16) MTN Golden Lions 62 (20)
The first half at Loftus Versfeld was tightly fought, as the Vodacom Blue Bulls and MTN Golden Lions matched one another with two tries and two penalties a piece.
This resulted in the teams being neck-on-neck for most of the half, although Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff proved to be more effective with the boot, which earned the visitors a narrow 20-16 lead at the break.
The Blue Bulls, however, snuck back into the lead three minutes into the second half as centre Francois Venter finished off a fantastic run of play following a break by Clayton Blommetjies for a 23-20 lead.
But the tables turned drastically on attack in the 49th minute after prop Morne Mellett was yellow-carded for infringing at a maul.
The Lions spread the ball to take advantage of the one-man overlap and it worked like a charm, earning them three tries in 10 minutes. They supported this with three more before the end of the match to take their tally to eight tries.
Vodacom Blue Bulls 23 (16) – Tries: Francois Venter, Jurgen Visser, Travis Ismaiel. Conversion: Jurgen Visser. Penalty: Visser. Drop Goal: Tony Jantjies.
MTN Golden Lions 62 (20) – Tries: Anthony Volmink, Deon Helberg, Derick Minnie (2), Elton Jantjies, Jaco Kriel, Warwick Tecklenburg, Willie Britz. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (8). Penalties: Boshoff (2).
GWK Griquas 19 (3) DHL Western Province 20 (10)
In Kimberly GWK Griquas and DHL Western Province were involved in an arm-wrestle from the outset, as the forwards took charge, resulting in a brutal battle.
The breakdowns, in particular, were hard fought with both teams winning turnovers and penalties at crucial times.
An early try by WP captain Deon Fourie handed his team a 7-0 lead in the fifth minute, but with the teams putting their bodies on the line on defence and winning turnovers in the opposition’s 22 at vital stages, the only other points earned were penalties.
The second half was equally tense and opened up with Kurt Coleman and Nico Scheepers exchanging penalties.
But Western Province centre Juan de Jongh made a breakthrough for their second try with 15 minutes to go after gathering a grubber for a 20-9 lead.
Western Province’s ill-discipline, however, allowed the home team to claw their way back into the match, thanks to a penalty by Scheepers, and a late try resulting from another penalty. But fortunately for the Cape side this was insufficient to force Griquas into the lead.
GWK Griquas 19 (3) – Try: PJ Vermeulen. Conversion: Du Randt Gerber. Penalties: Nico Scheepers (4).
DHL Western Province 20 (10) – Tries: Deon Fourie, Juan de Jongh. Conversions: Kurt Coleman (2). Penalties: Kurt Coleman (2).
Toyota Free State Cheetahs 15 (15) The Sharks 18 (13)
In Bloemfontein the Sharks dominated possession early on but battled to capitalise on it, mainly due to the solid Toyota Free State Cheetahs defence.
Despite this, the Durban team’s talented young flyhalf Fred Zeilinga handed them a 6-3 lead in the 15th minute after slotting over a penalty and a drop goal.
However, two tries in four minutes by Cheetahs looseforward Lappies Labuschagne and wing Raymond Rhule respectively in the second quarter pushed the home team into an encouraging 15-6 lead.
But the Sharks forwards’ were finally rewarded for their efforts on the stroke of half time as Jean Deysel crossed the tryline for their first five-pointer, which Zeilinga converted to reduce the deficit to two points.
With both teams giving their all the second half was epic.
Such was the close nature of the half the only points scored were through an unconverted try by Sharks centre Louis Ludik, which proved to be enough to earn the visitors their second victory and catapult them into second place on the log.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs 15 (15) – Tries: Lappies Labuschagne, Raymond Rhule. Conversion: Riaan Smit. Penalty: Smit.
The Sharks 18 (13) – Tries: Jean Deysel, Louis Ludik. Conversion: Fred Zeilinga. Penalty: Zeilinga. Drop Goal: Zeilinga.