Curwin Bosch’s boot butchered Western Province in the Currie Cup semi-finals, but the home team’s lack of rugby intelligence caused as much of the bleeding. Ditto the Lions in their defeat against the Bulls in Pretoria.
At a glance, it would appear that I was on the money, but these were two play-off matches in which the respective scoreboards should have read a lot differently.
The Bulls, 26-21 victors, should have whipped the Lions by 25 points.
The Bulls led 14-0 after 43 minutes and then found themselves stunned with two Lions tries within two minutes from a visiting team whose first half effort was tactically devoid of intelligence and absurd in approach.
The Lions 14 points in those 120 seconds didn’t change the course of a one-sided semi-final because they proceeded to concede eight successive penalties in 10 minutes between the 52nd and 62nd minutes and also lost both locks to the sin bin because of cynical and professional fouls.
The Bulls scored twice quickly but they should have scored five times when playing 15 against 13.
A late Lions try added a scoreboard story that was so removed from the what transpired for 80 minutes.
The Bulls were decent enough to win comfortably but they were by no means anything more than okay.
Bulls flyhalf Morne Steyn was a class above his Lions opposite Elton Jantjies, in approach, in decision-making and in influence. Bulls inside centre Cornel Hendricks and left wing Stravino Jacobs were also a stand outs but there was very little else among the rest of the players to raise the temperatures beyond the obvious afternoon heat.
The Bulls were at least consistent in their approach and the experienced leadership of Duane Vermeulen and Steyn recognised the value of kicking penalties and building a lead. The Lions refused to take any potential three points from a succession of first-half penalties and came away with nothing time and again from the kick to the corner and the stifled lineout drive.
The Lions tried to play all the rugby, all the time, and invariably in their own half. It was suicide and they lost their heads in the process.
Down in Cape Town, Western Province played all of the rugby in the right areas, within spitting distance of the Sharks tryline, but never got it right when it came to effective and winning play-off rugby.
The Sharks, starved of ball and territory, were nine points ahead within 10 minutes of the start. This was thanks to the enormous boot of Bosch, who kicked three successive 50-plus metre penalties.
Province, despite those Bosch strikes, spent the rest of the half winning the penalty after penalty, kicking to the corner and failing to deliver on any try-scoring lineout drive.
They did this repeatedly without any reward and finally had to settle for two late first half penalties.
Very little changed in the second half and the Sharks, who never trailed on the scoreboard, got only a couple of try-scoring moments and took them both. The first one was controversially disallowed by the TMO but there was no ruling out the only try of match to stretch a three point lead into a commanding 10 point advantage.
Both matches were painful to watch, but even more painful was the naivety of the Lions in their approach and the arrogance of a WP team who disrespected the basic principles of a play-off environment, dismissed the value of ‘gimme’ three pointers and ended up chasing five point shadows all afternoon.