After having to endure last weekend’s eighty minute horror show, South African rugby supporters may be feeling a bit put off the game. There is a cure for your rugby blues however, in the form of the Currie Cup.
While Sharks and Cheetahs supporters may feel as though following one of their side’s games is on par with watching the ‘Boks struggle - their sides are slowly improving and are still in with a shout of securing a semi-final spot. With the Pumas and Sharks tied on thirteen points and the fourth-placed Cheetahs only four points ahead of the aforementioned duo, the mid-table section of the log is nicely poised. There’s also a battle going on between the Bulls and Western Province for that second home semi-final spot. With the log so tight, every game played this weekend will be of vital importance; even the Griquas and the Kings will be involved in a wooden spoon encounter and neither side will want to end the tournament with that accolade to their name.
Sharks vs Blue Bulls | Friday 15 September | Kings Park | 20:00
To Win (80mins)
Blue Bulls 17/20
Sharks (+1.5) 19/20
Blue Bulls (-1.5) 19/20
Both sides were on the receiving end of defeats last weekend that may have a huge bearing on their campaigns. The Sharks’ loss to the Lions has left them four points off the last semi-final spot, while the Bulls now have Western Province breathing down their necks on the log after losing the North-South derby at Newlands. While not wholesale, Gary Gold has made some big changes to his team for this weekend’s fixture. One of these changes sees skipper Marco Wentzel dropped to the bench; his place is taken by Dave McDuling, with Philip van der Walt taking the over the captaincy duties. The switch sees the impressive Jean-Luc du Preez drop out of the squad altogether. His place is taken by Christiaan De Bruin, while Jean Deysel will provide loose forward cover from the bench. The Bulls have made a few more changes than the Sharks. Nollis Marais has been forced to shuffle his loose trio after a wrist injury ruled out Roelof Smit. Lappies Labuschagne will shift to the flank with Arno Botha coming into the tail of the scrum. Marais has also shaken things up in his backline, with Tian Schoeman and Jan Serfontein coming in for Louis Fouche and Dries Swanepoel.
VERDICT: Sharks 21/20
I can see the Sharks’ desperation to reach the semi-finals spurring them on to an upset victory.
Free State Cheetahs vs Golden Lions | Saturday 26 September | Free State Rugby Stadium | 13:00
To Win (80mins)
Cheetahs (+7.5) 9/10
Lions (-7.5) 9/10
Despite a lacklustre final twenty minutes the Lions managed to tame an improved Sharks outfit last Saturday. The win has left the Lions only requiring a bonus point victory to ensure a home semi-final. Their opponents for this weekend made strides towards making it through to the semi-finals themselves with a twenty-point victory over the Griquas last time out. The win has left the Cheetahs in the driver’s seat for the last semi-final spot. In terms of team news, the Cheetahs have made a few changes, with Sias Ebersohn coming into the flyhalf berth in place of Fred Zeilinga. Other changes to the backline sees Tertius Kruger replace Rayno Benjamin on the wing, while Zee Mkhabela comes in at scrumhalf. There are a few more changes up front with Gerhard Olivier and Vincent Jobo coming into the loose trio, while Freddy Nzuza comes in to partner Reniel Hugo in the second row. While Johan Ackerman is yet to announce his side - they should be at full strength for the encounter at the Free State Stadium.
VERDICT: Cheetahs 2/1
The Cheetahs always seem to spring an upset late on in tournaments, I think this is the game in which they’ll produce their annual Currie Cup upset.
Western Province vs Steval Pumas | Saturday 26 September | DHL Newlands | 15:30
To Win (80mins)
Western Province 1/50
Western Province (-22.5) 9/10
Pumas (+22.5) 9/10
The Pumas got some revenge on the Kings last week, beating the men from Eastern Province 20-11. The win means the Pumas are still in with a chance of semi-final qualification. Their opponents for this weekend continued their resurgent rise up the Currie Cup log with the bonus point victory over the Bulls last weekend. The win has seen the Capetonians move to within a single point of the Bulls on the log. Province mentor, John Dobson has delayed his team announcement mainly to give loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff every chance of proving his fitness. While Kitshoff has a chance of making it onto the field on Saturday, Cheslin Kolbe and Scarra Ntubeni have both been ruled out through injury. Jimmy Stonehouse, like his counterpart, is holding his cards close to his chest and will only make his team announcement a few hours before Dobson gives his. With so much on the line for both teams this game should prove to be an epic encounter.
VERDICT: Western Province (-22.5) 9/10
Province seem to have hit a run of form that shows no signs of letting up. They should be able to canter past the margin on the way to a bonus point victory.
Eastern Province Kings vs Griquas | Saturday 19 September | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 17:10
To Win (80mins)
EP Kings 12/10
EP Kings (+2.5) 9/10
Griquas (-2.5) 9/10
The battle to avoid the wooden spoon will take centre stage at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium late on Saturday afternoon. Both teams have been better in recent weeks but will be disappointed to still only have a solitary win to their names. With some tough fixtures still to come this game probably represents both sides’ best chance of doubling their win tally for the season. The Griquas will have to be at their best as the Kings have looked a lot more assured on home soil. While the coaches are yet to announce their match day squads at the time of writing, there shouldn’t be too many changes from last weekend. One man who could be pivotal to the Kings’ chances is Steven Sykes. The physical lock will make his hundredth Currie Cup appearance when he takes to the field on Saturday.
VERDICT: EP Kings 12/10
They’ve been good on home soil and I can’t see that changing when the Griquas come to town.