The only performance more dismal than the Sharks’ display at Mbombela Stadium was my attempt to predict Round 1’s results. Whilst it is never easy to foretell what will occur in the opening round of a rugby tournament, the fact the Sharks and Cheetahs decided to wait until the second half to turn up did me no favours. Round 2 should be a bit easier to navigate having seen all the teams in action. It looks to be an intriguing tournament, especially with the Bulls showing just what they can do if you give them a sniff. This weekend sees some more of those riveting big versus small union games, with Friday night’s matchup between the Lions and Pumas set to be a cracker. Saturday sees the premier game of Round 2; Western Province do battle against the unpredictable Cheetahs.
Golden Lions vs Pumas | Friday 14 August | Emirates Airline Park | 19:10
To Win (80mins)
Lions (-12.5) 9/10
Pumas (+12.5) 9/10
The Steval Pumas continued their hoodoo over the Sharks with a 33-24 victory at Mbombela Stadium last Friday. The Mpumalanga side were inspired by skipper Stefan Watermeyer and influential nine Faf De Klerk, with both men playing out of their socks against the Natalians. The diminutive nine comes up against the province he plies his trade for in Super Rugby this weekend. The Lions went one better than the Pumas by attaining a bonus point victory in their opener. Kwagga Smith was instrumental for the men from the Highveld; the flanker’s hat-trick of tries contributed heavily to the Lions passing the half century mark against the hapless Kings. The Lions have made a solitary change for this encounter with Sampie Mastriet replacing Anthony Volmink on the wing. Pumas coach MJ Mentz is yet to announce his squad, but is likely to go with a very similar looking match day 22 to the one that got the business done in Round 1. The two sides met twice on the Pumas’ road to Vodacom Cup glory earlier this year with the Lions claiming an away victory in round five while the Pumas had their revenge in the semi-final, running out 20-43 victors at Ellis Park.
VERDICT: Lions (-12.5) 9/10
If it was in Nelspruit my money would be on the Pumas staying within the handicap margin. Home ground advantage should see the Lions put one of their part time employees and his cohorts to the sword.
Blue Bulls vs Griquas | Friday 14 August | Loftus Versfeld | 19:10
To Win (80mins)
Bulls (-22.5) 9/10
Griquas (+22.5) 9/10
The Bulls gave the rest of the competition a little reminder with their performance against the Cheetahs last weekend…underestimate them at your peril. Their bonus point win at Free State Stadium was just the start newly installed coach Nollis Marais would have dreamed of. He and his players will want to have made it ten points from two games when the final whistle blows at Loftus this weekend. The men who stand in the way of this perfect start were hammered by Western Province in Kimberley and are not renowned for their away form. The Griquas were woeful against the men in blue and white and are likely to make a few changes to their team in the wake of Friday’s defeat. However coach Hawies Fourie is either holding his cards close to his chest or waiting on injury concerns, as he is yet to announce the composition of his Griquas team. The Bulls match day 22 on the other hand, remains unchanged.
VERDICT: Bulls (-22.5) 9/10
The Bulls seem to have found that elusive balance of youth and experience required to compete for Currie Cup honours in a World Cup year. They should be able to register another bonus point win when all’s said and done at Fortress Loftus.
Western Province vs Free State Cheetahs | Saturday 15 August | Newlands Stadium | 15:00
To Win (80mins)
Western Province 1/12
Western Province (-16.5) 9/10
Cheetahs (+16.5) 9/10
I have to admit that I was quite surprised with how easily John Dobson’s side dispatched of the Griquas last weekend. Although the Province backline will receive the plaudits for the bonus point win against Kimberley’s finest, their underrated forward pack’s contribution laid a fantastic platform for said backs to operate. Dobson will be hoping his charges can replicate the same form this weekend when they take on Franco Smith’s Cheetahs, who got off to a horrid start. The Cheetahs were well and truly beaten on home soil by the Bulls last weekend, but are capable of playing like a Schools U13 E side one week and then putting in a performance the All Blacks would be proud of the following. In terms of team news Western Province have no new injury concerns and are likely to go with the same players as last weekend. On the Cheetahs side, Franco Smith has opted to make five changes to his run on fifteen, with former Sharks pivot Fred Zeilinga set to make his Cheetahs debut. The other change to the backline sees AJ Coertzen come in for Coenie van Wyk at fullback. In the forwards, eighthman Neil Jordaan, lock Armandt Koster and hooker Jacques du Toit all come into the starting lineup.
VERDICT: Cheetahs (+16.5) 9/10
With not much on offer for a Province victory I’d recommend going for the Cheetahs to stay within the margin. It’s also set to be an exhibition of running rugby, so another option could be to get yourself a Hollywood Live In-Play account and throw a bit of money on the combined scoreline crossing the 62-point mark.
Sharks vs EP Kings | Saturday 15 August | Growthpoint Kings Park | 17:05
To Win (80mins)
EP Kings 8/1
Sharks (-23.5) 9/10
EP Kings (+23.5) 9/10
Gary Gold will be wondering if there is something in the Mpumalanga air that makes his charges wither like unattended roses. The Natalians once again found themselves vacating Mbombela Stadium without accruing a single log point. Despite being a relatively inexperienced unit, one would have expected more from the men from the East Coast. The Kings also got their campaign off to a less than ideal start, going down heavily to a rampant Lions side on the Highveld. With both teams desperate to register their first point on the log for 2015, we should be in for a bruising encounter. The Kings coaching staff have opted for continuity in a bid to reverse their fortunes, with exciting speedster Siyanda Grey the only new face amongst the run on fifteen. There isn’t much news coming out of the Sharks camp this week, which may be down to Gary Gold giving his team selection as much thought as possible. Gold is yet to announce his side but we’re likely to see Michael Classens come in for young nine Stefan Ungerer.
VERDICT: Sharks (-23.5) 9/10
The Sharks are back on home soil and after last week’s fiasco in Nelspruit they will be desperate to redeem themselves in the eyes of their fans. I expect a fired up Sharks side to take the Kings to the cleaners.