Lions could drop out of Currie Cup top tier

Four teams will fight for a place in the Currie Cup’s top tier over the next two weeks, while a fifth stands to benefit if the current list of contenders remains the same.


Player depth will be of great importance in next year’s Super Rugby tournament, with the intensity brought by the increased number of local derbies sure to provide even more physical showdowns.


This year, the Lions were the only South African franchise to have two Super Rugby allies — the Leopards and Pumas — competing in the premier division of the Currie Cup.


This should provide them with alternative options next year, when the inevitable injuries come into play.


“Having more players that were competitive in the premier division will certainly increase our base,” said Lions’ director of coaching Dick Muir.


“Seeing them play there provides us with an opportunity to measure their standard at a higher level and the key now will be to utilise the advantage we gained from that.”


The Lions have realised that the strength of their allies is just as important as that of their own squad.


This emphasises the responsibility the Leopards and Pumas have to ensure they remain in the premier division.


On Friday, the Pumas take on the Eastern Province Kings in Witbank. The Leopards host the South Western District Eagles in Potchefstroom on Saturday.


What will be of great interest in both matches is just how far off the pace the standard of play in the lower leagues really is.


The Kings argue that they are not that far off par even though they are used to a slower match tempo.


The premier division teams who were pitted against the Sharks, Western Province and Blue Bulls this year feel there is a significant gap between the two competitions.


“There is a big difference between first and premier divisions,” said Leopards’ coach Leon Boshoff.


“The step-up players need to make is similar to the transition from Currie Cup rugby to Super rugby ,” said Boshoff, who is familiar with the requirements at the different levels.


According to Boshoff, the real threat the current premier division sides have to contend with lies in their opponents’ hunger to climb the ladder.


“The passion with which these guys have played, and will play in the relegation matches, is what we have to be careful of,” he said.


“You can see that the players play for each other, so we know it is going to be a huge challenge.”


The coastal contenders’ passion to compete with the traditional power houses of rugby is shared by their fans.


Eastern Cape residents in particular have been starved of world class rugby and promotion for the Kings will be viewed as a leap towards becoming a competitive Super Rugby franchise in the future.


The Eagles know that greater financial stability is within their reach as sponsors tend to prefer backing teams that receive greater media exposure.


However, the question that will be answered over the next two weeks is whether the time the Leopards spent in the top tier was put to good use.


Having failed to win a single match this season, morale is at an all time low in Potchefstroom.


So, unless Boshoff — who took over from Chaka Willemse only three weeks ago — has an ace up his sleeve, the first division is where he could find himself coaching next year.


For the Pumas, it will be a real tragedy if they are knocked-out by the Kings.


The men from Witbank refused to let class contenders like the Blue Bulls and Sharks dictate how they should play and instead provided some of the most exciting performances of the season.


From a Lions perspective, the desired outcome would be that the same teams take part in next year’s Currie Cup premier division, but the warning signs are there that at least one of th

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