Building momentum will be the shared objective for the eight title-chasing teams in the second round of the Currie Cup this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
A catfight kicks off the action as the defending champion Pumas play host to the Lions in Nelspruit on Friday while the Bulls battle arch-rivals Western Province in Pretoria in the evening game.
The other fixtures take place on Sunday. The newly-promoted Griffons face the Cheetahs in their first home game in Welkom and the action concludes in Kimberley, where Griquas and the Sharks cross swords.
Pumas v Lions
Friday, 17 March – 17:00
The Pumas are purring after their record 63-15 rout of the Bulls at Loftus while the Lions are limping after their 44-28 home loss to Western Province.
The cat is out of the bag – the Pumas mean business and they aren’t going to give up their crown without a fight. The Lions, in turn, were disappointingly meek, looking like a tired team rather than a motivated one.
The synergy and fitness of the men in pink will floor the visitors.
Bulls v Western Province
Friday, 17 March – 19:05
It’s officially panic stations in Pretoria after last weekend’s humiliation, which kicked off the Edgar Marutlulle era in the worst possible way and followed a string of losses in the United Rugby Championship.
The most impressive aspect of Western Province’s emphatic win at Ellis Park was how their performance mirrored that of the Stormers’ style. It’s no coincidence given John Dobson’s coaching both teams and will make them tough to beat.
The Bulls will be better but not good enough to turn back the well-coached Cape Town collective.
Griffons v Cheetahs
Sunday, 19 March – 14:00
Clinical is the aptest one-word description of the Cheetahs’ 42-19 dismantling of Griquas in the Diamond City. The Free Staters produced the most tactically proficient performance of the opening round and the Griffons, like the Peacock Blues, will find it tough to get out of their own half.
The Purple People Eaters made a good impression in the first half against the Sharks to lead 13-10 at the break but couldn’t sustain that effort. That’s likely to be the theme of their first campaign back in the big leagues.
It will certainly come into play here with the Cheetahs set to drain them with their territorial game and dominant driving maul.
Griquas v Sharks
Sunday, 19 March – 16:05
Last year’s losing finalists Griquas were the biggest disappointments of the opening round as they were crushed by the Cheetahs. Most of that, though, was down to rustiness and they should improve as the season goes on.
The Sharks struggled to find cohesion as well but did develop some rhythm to bag a 32-16 win over the Griffons. Avoiding another slow start will be front of mind for Joey Mongalo’s men as will better decision-making at nine and 10.
The fire will be there for Griquas as they’ll be desperate to avoid a second successive loss at home, but this match-up comes a bit soon as they have more rust to shake off whereas the Sharks have URC players in their midst.