After a two-week break, a bigger spotlight and extra spice will see the Currie Cup return with a bang this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
With the United Rugby Championship on ice until the weekend of 19-20 May, there’s every possibility that the local franchises will thrust their frontline players into Currie Cup action in some form or another over the next two weeks, so business is bound to pick up.
The Sharks were scheduled to play host to the Pumas on Saturday, but the clash at Kings Park will now kick off Round 10 on Friday afternoon.
The Cheetahs, who trail the log-leading Bulls by a single point but have a game in hand, will look to stay undefeated on Friday night at Ellis Park, where their hosts the Lions, in turn, will be desperate to finally register their first win of the competition, while reigning champions the Bulls lock horns with Griquas at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Sharks v Pumas
Friday, 6 May – 16:45
Like their URC side, the Sharks’ Currie Cup contingent are third on the log despite not setting the world on fire. Their hard-fought 13-6 win over Griquas in Kimberley last time out attests to this.
Whereas the Durbanites have been lukewarm, the fifth-placed Pumas are either hot or cold. When they’re on, they play with a lethal fluency that’s tough to contain and most recently washed the Lions away (45-10).
That the Sharks’ scheduled Round 9 clash with the Bulls was cancelled and declared a draw due to the floods in KwaZulu-Natal means both they and the Pumas last played on 6 April.
The Sharks won the previous meeting 24-10 and the next-level class of the URC stars should give them a spring in their step and see them leave the Pumas in their dust.
Lions v Cheetahs
Friday, 6 May – 19:00
The Lions could almost taste victory against Griquas last time out before a last-minute try by Ashlon Davids condemned them to a heart-breaking 23-17 loss. They’d roped in a number of URC stars in hope of breaking their duck and dominated most of the match but couldn’t seal the deal.
That the pride of Johannesburg are out of the URC playoff picture makes their decision whether or not to bolster their winless Currie Cup collective easier than it is for the other franchises and that they’ve called on a number of big guns will make for a cracking catfight.
However, you still have to back the all-conquering Cheetahs, whose continuity has taken them to the pay window regardless if they were in third, fourth or fifth gear, their 28-21 win over Western Province in Cape Town in the previous round, after trailing by 14, being a case in point.
They can ill-afford another slow start but they have the class and cohesion to beat a bolstered Lions side.
Bulls v Griquas
Saturday, 7 May – 17:00
The two-time defending champion Bulls have made it abundantly clear that they’ll do whatever’s necessary to achieve a rare three-peat.
They’ve stacked their Currie Cup deck with heavy hitters whenever they could and will continue in that vein in the next fortnight, with Jake White convinced it’s best for both of the union’s top teams to keep their thoroughbreds on the race track.
With a slender one-point lead at the top of the log, they’ll be wise to the banana peel the Peacock Blues can be and will strategise accordingly to ensure they secure maximum points at home.
Griquas’ great escape at Ellis Park kept them in fourth position but showed how they struggle against reinforced opposition. They were trampled 53-27 by such a Bulls side in Kimberley in March and will meet a similar fate in Pretoria.
Prediction: Bulls by 22.