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Currie Cup - Round 1
Natal Sharks overcome Blue Bulls test
ESPNscrum Staff
July 15, 2011

The defending Currie Cup champions the Natal Sharks started their 2011 campaign in style with a 35-16 win over the Blue Bulls at Kings Park.

With an absence of Springboks on both sides, it was former French international Frédéric Michalak who stood up and played some irresistible rugby for the Sharks. Michalak was in inspired form at fly-half for the Durban side and played a key role in the game's opening two tries. He opened the scoring for the Sharks crashing over in the seventh minute into the corner.

However, in the 27th minute came the play of the match with Michalak taking a penalty quickly and kicking into the corner where Louis Ludik capitalised on the opportunity and crossed the line. The Sharks increased their lead before the half-time whistle with flanker Marcell Coetzee crossing the line, making the score 22-9.

Try as they might the Bulls, with many key players missing, never got back into contention despite crossing the line through Derick Kuun early in the second-half. Sharks captain Keegan Daniel soon extended the lead for the Sharks as he grounded the side's bonus point try, following TMO confirmation. Michalak added two penalties to the Sharks' total as they start their campaign with the goal of reclaiming the Currie Cup crown.

In the earlier kick off, the Western Province, void of their Springbok stars, drew their opening game of the Currie Cup with the Griquas 26-26 at Newlands.

The Griquas had Rocco Jansen to thank for his role in the draw as the winger crossed the try line twice and was a constant threat to the Western Province defence. However, it was the Western Province who dominated the opening half but the Griquas took the lead in spectacular fashion in the 17th minute after the two sides exchanged penalties. The Griquas took the ball on the half-way line, moved it through the hands to Jansen who ran down the wing to score a special solo effort. The Western Province struck back moments later through South Africa U20 flanker Siya Kolisi who used his pace and strength to run in under the posts. Despite the Province's domination the two sides went into the break all square at 16-16.

Jansen started the second-half in similar fashion to the first with the winger completing a 100-metre try for the Griquas. The Griquas turned over the Province on their own try-line before breaking through Richard Lawson down the right wing. He transferred the ball to Jansen, via Davon Raubenheimer, for his second try of the match. However, the Province soon struck back though through Johann Sadie to level the score at 23-23. Following an exchange of penalties, with the tension building, a knock-on from Griquas fly-half Monty Dumond nearly gifted the Province the win but they knocked on in the act of grounding the ball. Neither team could make the decisive breakthrough and the spoils were shared.

Elsewhere, the Free State Cheetahs smashed the Leopards 40-12 to send a message out to the rest of their Currie Cup competitors.

The Cheetahs led 35-5 at half-time and started the game in style after just four minutes with tight-head WP Nel crashing over following a five-metre line-out. Captain Andries Strauss stretched the lead and Rayno Benjamin crossed the line soon after to make it 21-0 to the home side. Despite a Leopards try the Cheetahs showed no sign of their dominance relenting and Corne Uys got in on the act to make it 28-5. The Cheetahs' final score of the first-half came through replacement back Philip Burger.

The second-half was a tame affair with both sides scoring just a try apiece. The Leopards' BG Uys crossed for their second try of the match before Philip Snyman had the final say of the match for the home side scoring the game's last try to make the score 40-12 to the Cheetahs.

On Friday, the Golden Lions opened their Currie Cup account with a narrow 31-27 victory over the Pumas in Johannesburg on Friday night.

Lions fly-half Francis Burton opened the scores from the kicking tee before his Pumas counterpart Ricardo Coy levelled things up with a drop goal. The Lions edged ahead with a try from prop Jacobie Adriaanse, that was converted by Francis, but the Pumas struck back again with a try from winger Ashwin Scott, with Croy adding the extras. Francis' second penalty gave the hosts the lead once more but it was short-lived with centre Pieter Engelbrecht crashing over for the Pumas. Croy slotted the conversion but the Lions reduced the arrears to a point with Francis' third penalty just before the break.

The Pumas took a firmer grip on the game with a try from lock Marius Coetzer just after the re-start and Croy's conversion carried them out to an eight-point lead. But back came the Lions with Croy getting among the tries before swiftly adding a conversion and a penalty to wrestle back the lead. Croy's first penalty of the game just past the hour mark put his side back on course for victory but the Lions had the final and decisive say with a try from centre Alwyn Hollenbach with ten minutes of the game remaining.

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