It’s a crunch weekend in the Currie Cup as the top four teams go head-to-head and the bottom four look to make up ground, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Fourth-placed Western Province (27) welcome the second-placed Pumas (35) to Cape Town while the third-placed Sharks (33) host the log-leading Cheetahs (38) in Durban in Friday’s fixtures.
Saturday will see the bottom-of-the-log Griffons (9) entertain sixth-placed Griquas (23) in Welkom and the fifth-placed Lions (24) battle the seventh-placed Bulls (22) in Johannesburg.
Western Province v Pumas
Athlone Stadium will stage this crunch clash as the Cape Town Stadium pitch is being preserved for the Stormers’ United Rugby Championship final against Munster next weekend.
One point separated the sides in their last meeting, a last-gasp Brandon Thomson penalty goal earning the Pumas a 25-24 win, and it should be another tight one with competition for home playoff places heating up.
The defending champions, who fought so valiantly with 14 men against the Sharks until their last-kick heartbreak last weekend, have been better over 80 minutes than Western Province, who nearly let a 25-point lead slip against the Griffons, and should also have an edge at the breakdown, which should help them pip it.
Sharks v Cheetahs
Friday, 19 May – 19:05
With five wins on the bounce, the Sharks are the form team of the competition. They didn’t look it for most of the match against the 14-man Pumas in Nelspruit, but their two-try heroics in the final five minutes to snatch the win wiped out the frustrations that preceded it.
The Cheetahs were in a similar funk in which they were stuck in first gear but were unable to rise above it. The 33-26 loss to the Lions was an unwanted surprise for the Free Staters and cut their lead at the top to just three over the Pumas and five over the Sharks.
The Cheetahs have been stuttering for the last few weeks, lacking confidence and creativity, and with the Sharks being on a roll and having home-ground advantage, they should continue their winning ways.
Griffons v Griquas
Saturday, 20 May – 15:00
Despite coming up just short (25-21), the Griffons would’ve drawn a lot of confidence from their fightback against Western Province and will eye an upset over a wounded Griquas team who lost by 20 to the Bulls.
To do so they’ll have to defend like they did in the first 30 minutes last weekend and sustain that effort throughout. They also need to work on their handling after coughing up 14 knock-ons.
The loss to the Bulls underlined the fact that Griquas have a ceiling this season, however, it’s much higher than that of the Griffons. They’ll focus on eliminating the unnecessary penalties they conceded last weekend and won’t take the Purple People Eaters lightly to ensure they leave Welkom with a full house.
Lions v Bulls
Saturday, 20 May – 17:05
Closing out the round is what should be a humdinger of a Jukskei derby after both teams’ impressive wins last weekend, the Lions upsetting the Cheetahs 33-26 and the Bulls battering Griquas 40-20.
The Sanele Nohamba experiment couldn’t have gone better. Even the Lions must’ve been surprised by the cohesion they had with the regular scrumhalf operating at No 10 and it’ll be interesting to see if they back him in the role again.
The real Bulls arrived last weekend and it’ll take something special to turn back the star-studded side. The Pretoria side have superior class and depth, which have seen win eight of the last nine derbies against their neighbours, and arguably want it more as they have to win all their remaining games to make the semi-finals, so bank on the Bulls.