This weekend sees a return to more traditional Saturday kick-off slots and whilst I’m personally elated to see a return to a more conventional set of fixtures, the Friday night simultaneous kick-offs are still an annoyance, especially with the less glamorous fixture not even being televised. Speaking of annoyances, the team I have supported since childhood ruined my perfect round last weekend. I was three from three heading into the final encounter and felt like I had my multiple in the bag until the Sharks let me down. Hopefully this weekend will see a perfect set of results for myself and in the process, make you some money. The bookies have been kind with the odds for Round 3, especially with the Bulls sitting at evens to beat Province at Loftus. The Lions at 9/10 to beat the Sharks by a -4.5 margin is also rather generous. With some excellent value on offer and some exciting rugby sure to be on show, make sure you get those bets on early.
Eastern Province Kings v Pumas | Friday 21 August | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 19:00
To Win (80mins)
EP Kings 9/4
Kings (+8.5) 9/10
Pumas (-8.5) 9/10
The first match of the weekend sees the seventh-placed EP Kings take on the fifth-placed Pumas. This will be the Pumas’ third Friday night fixture, having played the Sharks and Lions under lights in their first two games. Both sides put in relatively solid displays against their more glamorous opponents last weekend, with the Kings almost walking away with two bonus points from their encounter against the Sharks. In terms of team news, the Kings will have bulldozer Jacques Engelbrecht back. The flanker - who returned on loan from the Bulls - comes in for Stefan Willemse on the side of the scrum. In the backline, Tim Whitehead is out with concussion whilst George Whitehead is also sidelined with bruising to the knee. Ronnie Cooke comes into the outside centre role with JP du Plessis shifting to inside centre in place of Tim Whitehead. Karlo Aspeling comes in for George Whitehead. Their opponents have been given a massive boost with influential skipper Stefan Watermeyer overcoming a thigh problem that has seen him miss a few training sessions this week. In the Pumas tight five, Rudi Mathee has been declared fit to play and will start in the second row alongside Marius Coetzer. Elsewhere in the pack, Jason-Colin Fraser comes into the number eight berth after some impressive displays off the bench.
VERDICT: Pumas (-8.5) 9/10
The margin is quite a big one especially with the Pumas away from home, however their backline should have enough ammunition to overcome the handicap.
Griquas vs Free State Cheetahs | Friday 21 August | Griquas Park | 19:10
To Win (80mins)
Griquas (+6.5) 9/10
Cheetahs (-6.5) 9/10
It has been a tough start to the 2015 Currie Cup campaign for both the men from Kimberley and the Free State’s finest; both are yet to register a win as we enter the third round. The Griquas occupy the foot of the log having failed to accrue any points whilst the Cheetahs sit in sixth due to the losing bonus point they picked up at Newlands last week. Despite their woes on the log, both sides will be encouraged by their performances last weekend. The Griquas went into the halftime break with a six-point lead over the Bulls but were blown away in the second half, whilst the Cheetahs managed to stay within a seven-point losing margin at Newlands. Onto team news and the Griquas are once again leaving it late to announce their squad for the clash but there seems to be no fresh injury concerns for Hawies Fourie. On the Cheetahs side of things, coach Franco Smith has been forced to tinker with his backline due to AJ Coertzen's injury. Clayton Blommetjies will shift from the wing to fullback to fill the hole left by Coertzen, whilst former Kings flyer Sergeal Petersen will play his first Currie Cup match for the Cheetah, coming into the right wing slot vacated by Blommetjies. In the pack, Gerhard Olivier comes in for Broom Prinsloo, who like so many South African rugby players has succumb to a broken jaw.
VERDICT: Griquas 19/10
This fixture has been doing my head in; with both teams struggling, it really could go either way. After hours of debate I’ve decided to go with the home team who are a much tougher prospect at Griquas Park than on the road.
Sharks vs Golden Lions | Saturday 22 August | Growthpoint Kings Park | 17:05
To Win (80mins)
Sharks (+4.5) 9/10
Lions (-4.5) 9/10
Saturday’s first fixture sees the high-flying Lions take on a struggling Sharks side at Kings Park. The Sharks find themselves in a similar situation to that the Lions went through a few years ago. Coach Gary Gold has been tasked with bringing the Sharks youngsters through to replace the elder statesmen who are moving on to European pastures at the end of the season. He is experiencing the same teething problems Lions coach Johan Ackermann endured when the Johannesburg union went for the promotion of youth approach. Ironically, Gold will probably be buoyed by the recent success of their opponents for this weekend, with the Lions illustrating just how fruitful promoting from within your junior ranks can be. However, one is left to wonder if the man at the Sharks helm is missing a trick by not allowing a few of the elder statesmen game time. One of the vets who definitely won’t run out at the Shark Tank this weekend is Jean Deysel; the wrecking ball of a loose forward is out with a shoulder injury. He returned to action last week alongside Paul Jordaan and Odwa Ndungane, who both came through the encounter with the Kings unscathed and are likely to add some much needed experience to the Sharks starting backline this weekend. Whilst the team news on the Sharks side of things is a bit of a mixed bag, the Lions have been hampered by a season ending injury for centre Harold Vorster. Vorster, who can play either twelve or thirteen, tore the ACL on his left knee last weekend.
VERDICT: Lions (-4.5) 9/10
Come the final whistle at Kings Parks, I can see the tournament joint favourites having made it a full house of points from their first three encounters.
Blue Bulls vs Western Province| Saturday 22 August | Loftus Versfeld | 19:10
To Win (80mins)
Blue Bulls 1/1
Western Province 8/10
Blue Bulls (+1.5) 9/10
Western Province (-1.5) 9/10
Saturday’s late kick-off sees South Africa’s biggest derby game take centre stage. In the past this game has seen two contrasting styles of play implemented by the teams which has often lead to the Bulls attempting to kick Province out of the game. However with the Bulls playing a more attacking brand of rugby this season, we’re likely to see a much more open match. Both sides managed wins last weekend; the Bulls put in an impressive second half display which saw them run out 36-12 victors whilst Province overcame the Cheetahs at an extremely wet Newlands. The Bulls currently occupy top spot on the log having garnered ten points from their opening two encounters and have already crossed the sixty-point mark in points differential. Province sit third on the log and are only a point behind the Pretoria based side. In terms of team news the home side will be without Deon Stegmann who is out with a broken cheek bone whilst the visitors have lost skipper Juan De Jongh for up to eight weeks with a knee injury sustained in the battle of attrition against Free State. With De Jongh out, Nizaam Carr will take over the captaincy.
VERDICT: Bulls 1/1
The loss of Juan De Jongh is a major blow for Province; his ability to marshal the backline both on attack and defence will be sorely missed. With their skipper being such a vital cog in the Capetonian backline machine, it may take time for the men in hoops to adjust to life without him. I can see Nolis Marais’ men taking full advantage of what will likely be an unsettled Province backline.