The Bulls will be determined to land a double blow when they host traditional rivals Western Province in the pick of Wednesday’s Currie Cup clashes, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
With the log-leading Cheetahs (26) having a bye, victory in the North/South derby will take the men from Pretoria (25) to the top of the table for the time being.
But first, the second half of the competition kicks off with a catfight between the Pumas and the Lions in Nelspruit, while Griquas welcome the Sharks to Kimberley.
Pumas v Lions
Wednesday, 6 April – 15:30
The Lions have been hit with challenges around every corner, the increasing weight of which burying them deeper and deeper at the bottom of the log every week.
Their challenge this week is both physical and mental as they’ll have to restore pride following their heaviest-ever loss to the Pumas in their last meeting in Round Two – a 50-9 drubbing at Ellis Park.
The young Johannesburg side’s last outing saw them nuked (40-10) by their neighbours, again at home, whereas the Lowvelders got their campaign back on track with a tremendous 37-11 triumph over Western Province in Cape Town, where their senior players stepped up to arrest a three-match losing skid.
Five points behind fourth-placed Griquas, Jimmy Stonehouse’s side will make sure they capitalise on this home game to stay in the playoff picture.
Prediction: Pumas by at least 29.
Griquas v Sharks
Wednesday, 6 April – 17:45
Having crashed to back-to-back defeats to the Bulls (35-21) and the Cheetahs (29-15), this is a vital game for the Sharks and it comes against their bogey side.
One point separated the teams in Durban in Round Two, the hosts prevailing 24-23, but all indications are that the shoe is on the other foot in this return fixture in Kimberley.
A loss will see the Sharks (18), who led the way early on, drop another position to fourth with the Peacock Blues (15) moving up to third, so the stakes are high for both sides.
Griquas have won three of their four games since the aforementioned loss to the Sharks, the only blemish coming against a Springbok-laden Bulls team, which they bounced back from with a 49-17 victory over the Lions.
Griquas are a well-oiled machine whereas the Sharks are struggling to fix their fundamental flaw at flyhalf. Therefore, I’m backing Pieter Bergh’s charges to claim a hard-fought win.
Prediction: Griquas by 3.
Bulls v Western Province
Wednesday, 6 April – 20:00
Considering their contrasting campaigns, this won’t be a classic North/South derby. The two-time defending champions are on a roll, recording big wins over Griquas (53-27), the Sharks (35-21) and the Lions (40-10) after suffering their only loss to the Cheetahs to close the gap between them and the Free State frontrunners to a solitary point.
Western Province, in turn, were condemned to a humiliating 37-11 loss at home last time out by the Pumas, their fifth straight defeat after opening their campaign with a 48-36 win over the Lions. Jerome Paarwater’s team are yet to find their identity. Consequently, they lack direction and cohesion, which override the hard work they put in.
The Bulls have made no secret about the fact they’re putting a premium on completing a rare treble and have, therefore, relied heavily on United Rugby Championship stars to get them to the final. Their vastly greater depth saw them embarrass the Capetonians (40-21) in Round Two and will power them to a dominant double over their arch-rivals.
Prediction: Bulls by 25.