The pacesetters will seek to prove a point while the chasing pack will look to make inroads in Round 11 of the Currie Cup this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The front-running Bulls (37) and Cheetahs (36) continued their winning ways last weekend but were left unsatisfied with their respective patchy performances and will want to stress that they won’t be caught slipping on Saturday.
The Free Staters, who have a game in hand, host the Sharks (third on 24) in Bloemfontein while the Bulls play the Lions (last on 3) in Pretoria. The action kicks off on Friday in Nelspruit, where the Pumas (fifth on 19) will eye another win over Western Province (sixth on 9).
Pumas v Western Province
Friday, 13 May – 19:00
On cloud nine after shocking the Sharks in Durban, the Pumas will look to ride that wave of momentum to a win on Friday night that would see them enter the top four at the expense of Griquas.
For Western Province, who are a full 10 points behind their hosts in sixth place, Nelspruit serves as the meeting point for the past, present and future.
The Cape side will have vengeance on their mind for the 37-11 pummelling the Pumas gave them in March, as well as shaking off rust ahead of the all-important final round of the United Rugby Championship next weekend.
It’ll almost be a month to the day of their last Currie Cup match, the 28-21 loss to the Cheetahs at home, and roughly two weeks since the Stormers’ 20-13 win over Leinster, so there’ll be selection posers.
If Jerome Paarwater gets to field a URC star-laden side as I’m expecting, they’ll tick all the boxes and bag an emphatic win. If not, they’ll slump to an eighth consecutive loss.
Prediction: Western Province by 17/ Pumas by 11.
Cheetahs v Sharks
Saturday, 14 May – 14:30
For the Cheetahs, the Bloemfontein battle is about rediscovering rhythm. For the Sharks, it’s about redemption. The stop-start schedule has seen Hawies Fourie’s men lose much of the steam they’d built in the first half of the season.
Struggling to get out of the blocks, they again had to play catch-up last weekend, trailing 26-17 before a final-quarter push saw them complete the comeback (35-26).
That they’ve managed to stay unbeaten is a testament to their structures – further evidence of this was the three tries they scored with their driving maul at Ellis Park – but they’ll want to regain their attacking mojo.
Their misfiring pales in comparison to the horrors of the disjointed Durbanites. Basic errors were plentiful again last weekend and led to a 20-10 home loss to the Pumas.
Bluntness has been a season-long affliction for the third-placed Sharks, who’ve scored the fewest tries – just 17, with even the winless Lions having scored four more five-pointers.
Add the visitors’ disciplinary issues and the Cheetahs should come away with a two-score win.
Prediction: Cheetahs by 10.
Bulls v Lions
Saturday, 14 May – 17:00
Jake White, who stood in for Gert Smal as coach last weekend, was not happy with his charges’ unravelling in the second half after they’d raced into a 36-5 half-time lead against Griquas.
Conceding two yellow cards and five tries after the interval made their 48-38 win bittersweet and as a final hit-out before the resumption of the URC, the Bulls’ Jukskei derby mission statement will be to deliver an 80-minute performance.
The Lions are yet to break their duck but will be buoyed by how they stood up and threatened to upset Griquas and the Cheetahs in their last two outings.
Their crumbling in the last 20 minutes last weekend again showed that they don’t have the staying power to get over the line and they’ll be handily beaten by their neighbours.
Prediction: Bulls by 15.