There’ll be no room for error in the penultimate round of the Currie Cup regular season this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The Sharks (43) and Cheetahs (41) will look to consolidate their places in the top two, the third-placed Pumas (36) will push to stay ahead of the chasing pack while Western Province, the Lions, Bulls (all on 31) and Griquas will be desperate to make inroads.
Griquas and Western Province kick off the action in Kimberley on Friday afternoon, followed by the Bulls going up against the Griffons in Pretoria.
On Saturday, the Pumas and Cheetahs collide in Nelspruit and the Sharks square off against the Lions.
Griquas v Western Province
Friday, 2 June – 15:00
The small margins in this year’s competition are best highlighted by what happened to Griquas last weekend.
Instead of claiming four points for a win that would’ve seen them finish the round in fourth place, the two points they had to settle for thanks to Ruan Pienaar’s match-levelling penalty goal left them seventh and needing to win both of their remaining games to stand a chance of making the playoffs.
Fourth-placed Western Province were as blunt as a butter knife in their 32-12 home loss to the Lions and after Griquas’ stern defensive effort in the Central derby, I don’t know how the Capetonians are going to breach their hosts’ try line aside from possibly their driving maul.
I see the underdog Peacock Blues standing firm on D and playing a good tactical game to edge it at home.
Bulls v Griffons
Friday, 2 June – 17:05
The Griffons again gave a good account of themselves in the first half against the Sharks last weekend before being blown away in the second. With just pride to play for, they’ll want to work towards producing an 80-minute performance.
As every log point is crucial for the sixth-placed Bulls to work their way into the top four, they’ll be ruthless and romp to a bonus-point win to advance their cause and exact revenge for their shock loss to the Purple People Eaters in Round Four.
Pumas v Cheetahs
Saturday, 3 June – 17:00
Both teams need to rediscover the form that made them the early pacesetters. The Pumas’ 24-17 loss to the Bulls was their third in a row while the Cheetahs were somewhat fortunate to selvage a last-gasp draw against Griquas to avoid a three-match skid themselves.
The Cheetahs have lacked ingenuity as of late. Fortunately for the Free Staters, they have an exceptional driving maul that continues to churn out tries, but they need to find their attacking mojo to avoid further disappointment.
For their part, the Pumas have lost steam. Yes, the Bulls and Sharks have been bolstered by their United Rugby Championship stars, but the defending champions don’t quite have the same energy and sting that drove them in the first half of the competition.
Therefore, I’m backing the Cheetahs to pip it.
Sharks v Lions
Saturday, 3 June – 19:05
Something has to give in the game of the weekend at Kings Park. The Sharks poured it on in the second half in Welkom to stretch their winning streak to six while the Lions came alive and thoroughly outplayed Western Province at Athlone Stadium with a performance that’ll give them confidence that they could do the same in the Shark Tank.
To do so, the fifth-placed visitors will have to replicate the resolute defence of last weekend and bring down their penalty count after conceding no less than 16 full-arm offences.
The Sharks have continuity and momentum and after overtaking the Cheetahs at the top of the log last weekend, they’ll be determined to cement their place in poll position. They have their bases covered and while the Lions will be a tough test, it should be one the Sharks pass.