The Currie Cup got two rounds inside a week done ahead of the return of the URC this past weekend. With the competitions running at the same time, there was concern amongst fans and punt-it's that the lines would blur between the competitions and make it difficult to keep track of. This is only partially true however.
The first two rounds of Currie Cup action took place on Saturday and Wednesday with all but the Sharks lining up twice within only a handful of days, whilst the big 4 were called upon again this Saturday for the URC. Wednesdays fixtures saw the Lions demolished 50 -9 by the Pumas at home, whilst the Bulls beat Western Province 40 - 21 and the Sharks just snuck home against the Griquas with a 24 - 23 win.
Teams like the Bulls and Sharks decided against splitting their squads along competition lines which saw the likes of Marcell Coetzee play Currie Cup on Wednesday and off the bench again on Saturday in the URC. The Lions and Western Province took a different stance however, splitting their squads in the hope that each squad would be able to dedicate their focus to the competition they were tasked with.
I have been concerned that the number of derbies in such close proximity, would make for difficult viewing and that keeping track of which fixture belonged to which tournament would have our Superbru fans struggling to make their picks. The rugby dished up in the URC however showed just where SA's priorities lay, but not only that. The quality of play and even more so, the results showed that the two competitions are worlds apart.
In the first game of the weekend, the Springbok laden Sharks toppled the Lions 47 - 37 thanks to a man of the match, hat-trick performance from Springbok flyer Makazole Mapimpi. The Sharks showed much more attacking prowess than they did against the Griquas, whilst the Lions were able to put together a much stronger showing than they mounted against the Pumas just days earlier.
Probably the big surprise for everyone however, came in the second fixture. The Bulls played host to the Stormers just days after playing in the Currie Cup. Many, me included thought it would be much of the same, with the Bulls pack ensuring it would be one way traffic. The Stormers showed they were an entirely different beast however and Evan Roos provided enough fire power to ensure his side were victorious as they won the game 30 -26 in a tense battle.
There is no hiding from the fact that the Blue Bulls and the Sharks have the financial power now, after taking in private investment to shore up their playing stocks. This, simply put, translates to better depth and allows the sides to field two vastly more competitive squads. The Lions and Western Province will have thrown all resources into the URC challenge and the Currie Cup will be consigned to second fiddle. Whether they wanted to or not, budget constraints will have forced their hands.
Either way, although the players looked rusty this weekend, in their first hit out of the season, the URC is clearly where the big battles will be fought. All four of our Unions have a lot to prove in convincing the Northern Hemisphere that we belong, having the big guns back will certainly help the cause. Time to see our sides climb into the top 10 and beyond.