A strange fixture draw for this year’s Currie Cup means we will see teams facing each other twice before even facing other competitors once. This weekend’s games will all be repeat fixtures or ‘second legs’. Friday night will once again see two games played under lights, with only the Cheetahs and Province game being televised. Whilst I vented my annoyance at these matchups in last week’s article, I’m trying my utmost to not go into a full on tirade this week.
While my Saturday results came in last weekend, Friday evening again proved to be my downfall. The Lions started my recovery once again with a solid performance away at the Shark Tank. The Bulls also helped to pull me out of the losing myre with a fine display at Loftus in last Saturday’s late kick-off. The aforementioned two sides are starting to pull away at the top of the log and whilst I fully subscribe to Naas Botha’s legendary statement about the Currie Cup not being won in May, it’s hard to see anyone outside of the current top two holding the trophy aloft come the tournament’s conclusion. It may only be August, but the rest of the field needs to get their act together sharpish to avoid, at best, an away semi-final.
Free State Cheetahs vs Western Province | Friday 28 August | Free State Stadium | 19:10
To Win (80mins)
Western Province 4/10
Cheetahs (+6.5) 9/10
Western Province (-6.5) 9/10
The Cheetahs registered their first win in this year’s Currie Cup last weekend, mainly due to their second stanza blitzkrieg. Their opponents for this weekend were also involved in an entertaining second half last time out, that saw John Dobson’s men taste defeat for the first time in this campaign. The Province mentor will be hoping Juan De Jongh can recover sooner than the seven-week prognoses that the Province medical team gave. De Jongh isn’t the only Province player to have succumbed to injury in the past fortnight. Front-rower Oliver Kebble is out for this week’s clash, with his absence seeing Alistair Vermaak come into the starting fifteen. He will be joined in the run on side by youngster Godlen Masimla, who makes his debut. The only unenforced change to the team comes on the wing where Kobus van Wyk comes in for Dillyn Leyds. The Cheetahs are in a much better state when it comes to injuries and this is reflected in Franco Smith’s team selection. The Cheetahs mentor has made only a single change to his starting line-up with BG Uys coming in for Caylib Oosthuizen. The weather forecast indicates it will be a lot drier at the Free State Stadium than it was a fortnight ago at Newlands. With a dry evening in store these two sides should be able to put on the spectacle that I predicted they would two weeks ago.
VERDICT: Cheetahs 19/10
With all the injuries Province have racked up in recent weeks, they look out of shape. Bearing this in mind, I can see the Free Stater’s taking the spoils in Bloemfontein.
Pumas vs Golden Lions | Friday 28 August | Mbombela Stadium | 19:10
To Win (80mins)
Pumas (+9.5) 9/10
Lions (-9.5) 9/10
The Pumas got the job done at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, scraping to a 13-15 victory against the Kings last Friday. The men from Nelspruit now sit fourth on the log and if they continue in this vain, they may well make it into the semi-finals. Their opponents for this encounter are still unbeaten, after a flurry of tries in the last twenty minutes saw them to victory in Durban. Both teams will be desperate to continue their winning streaks, so we should be in for a fiery encounter at Mbombela Stadium. In terms of team news, both sides have made one change apiece to their starting lineups. On the Pumas side of things, Giant Mtyanda comes in for Marius Coetzer in the second row. The Lions have brought in Sampie Mastriet in place of Anthony Volmink on the wing. The last game between the two sides saw the Lions run out 44 to 27 victors at Ellis Park.
VERDICT: Lions (-9.5) 9/10
I know I’m contradicting myself a bit here, as I did say I would have backed the Pumas to keep within a +12.5 margin if they were at home two weeks ago. But with the Lions in such fantastic form I can’t see the men from Nelspruit keeping the score within the narrower margin.
Griquas vs Blue Bulls | Saturday 29 August | Griquas Park | 15:00
To Win (80mins)
Blue Bulls 1/10
Griquas (+15.5) 9/10
Blue Bulls (-15.5) 9/10
The Griquas’ second half woes continued as they let another positive first half performance go to waste. MJ Mentz’s side were only trailing by six points at the interval but ended up losing by 22 when all was said and done. The Bulls, on the other hand, put in a solid second half showing that saw them to a 47-29 victory over Province. Coach Nollis Marais’ mantra of attacking rugby seems to be paying dividends for the Pretoria side. Whilst a lot of praise should be heaped on Marais, his charges should also receive some of the accolades having adjusted their playing styles to suite the new game plan. In terms of team news, the Bulls will be without baby ‘Bok skipper Hanro Liebenberg; the youngster was rushed to hospital this week to undergo surgery on a ruptured small intestine. The surgery was a success but Liebenberg is out for at least six weeks. His place in the starting line-up is taken by Arno Botha, who has recovered from the knee injury that saw him miss the first three rounds of Currie Cup action. On the Griquas’ side of things, eighthman Carel Greeff was cleared by a citing committee for his dangerous tackle during last week’s game and will take to the field this weekend. The first fixture between the two sides saw the Griquas let a first half lead slip, to eventually go down by 36 points to 12.
VERDICT: Blue Bulls (-15.5) 9/10
The Griquas second half woes are yet to abate, and with the Bulls scoring the majority of their points in the second stanza this season, I fully expect Nollis Marais’ charges to blow the men from Kimberley away after oranges, and in the process surpass the -15.5 margin.
EP Kings vs Sharks | Saturday 29 August | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 17:05
To Win (80mins)
EP Kings 11/4
EP Kings (+8.5) 9/10
Sharks (-8.5) 9/10
A dramatic late fightback from the Lions saw the Sharks suffer their second defeat of the season. The Natalians now sit in sixth position on the log, having only won a solitary game in their opening three matches. After last weekend’s defeat coach John Dobson is faced with a catch twenty-two; does he stick with the veterans or does he revert back to the youth policy he started the campaign with? The Sharks mentor’s team selection for this weekend seems to indicate he will opt for the former option, with the only change to the side seeing Gerhard Engelbrecht come into the front row in place of Thomas du Toit. Their hosts for this weekend will be able to call upon former Sharks man Steven Sykes, who escaped a ban for his double yellow card last against the Pumas. Another former Sharks man who could take to the field for the Kings this weekend is Tim Whitehead. The centre has overcome the concussion that kept him out of last week’s thrilling game against the Pumas. The last encounter between the two sides ended 33-25 in favour of the Sharks.
VERDICT: Kings 11/4
I’m going to stick my neck out on this one and go with an upset - the Kings put up a real fight the last time the two sides met and will be quietly confident of upsetting the odds in this encounter.