Round eight saw some high-scoring encounters, with the total scores in three of the four fixtures going past the 65 point mark. Last weekend’s results have had a huge bearing on almost every position on the log.
The Lions have effectively consolidated first spot, and are guaranteed to at least enjoy a home semi-final. Below them, there is an epic battle going on for second spot between the Bulls and Province. The duo sit level on points, but the Bulls hold second spot due to a superior points difference. There is also a fight going on for the last semi-final spot between the Cheetahs and the Sharks, while the Kings victory over the Griquas last week has seen the men from East London open up a four point gap between themselves, and the foot of the log occupants.
This weekend will see the penultimate set of round-robin fixtures. With some intriguing rugby in store and some fantastic odds on offer, make sure you don’t miss out on any of the punting.
Golden Lions v Western Province
Friday 2 October, Emirates Airline Park, 18:00
To Win (80mins)
Lions (-4.5) 9/10
Province (+4.5) 9/10
The Lions continued their unbeaten streak with a 42 point win over the Cheetahs in round eight. The victory has seen the Gauteng side open up a nine point gap on the overall log. Their opponents for this weekend were also involved in a high scoring affair last time out. John Dobson’s side picked up a bonus point in their 31 point victory over the Pumas at Newlands last weekend. The result has seen the men from the Cape draw level on points with the second placed Bulls on the log. With the Bulls likely to pick up five points from their game against the Kings, Dobson’s charges will have to put one over the tournament favourites if they are to have a chance at qualifying for a home semi-final.
In terms of team news, Johan Ackerman has decided to make a few changes to his starting XV. The Lions mentor has opted to rotate his props, with Dylan Smith and Julian Redelinghuis getting a start this weekend. The two other changes to the run-on fifteen see Anthony Volmink return on the wing, while Johan Janse van Rensberg comes into the outside centre berth. Dobson has also made a few changes to his starting line-up. Lock Jean Kleyn and prop Steven Kitshoff return to the starting pack, while Nic Groom and Juan de Jongh are among the starting backs.
VERDICT: Lions (-4.5) 9/10
Although Province have been a vastly improved unit in recent weeks, I can’t see them beating the undefeated Lions.
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Blue Bulls v Eastern Province Kings
Friday 2 October, Loftus Versfeld, 19:10
To Win (80 Min)
Bulls 9/10 (-22.5)
Kings 9/10 (+22.5)
While they were nowhere near their best, Nollis Marais charges did managed to claim a vital win at Kings Park last weekend. The four point victory kept the Bulls in second spot on the log, although being only on point’s difference. The Kings also managed a narrow victory last weekend beating the Griquas by three points at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. This victory should ensure that the Kings avoid finishing the competition at the foot of the log.
Nollis Marais has made one change to his starting forward pack for this encounter. Lock RG Snyman comes in for Marvin Orie, who drops to the bench, while Dries Swanepoel comes into the backline in place of the England-bound Jan Serfontein. The Kings have opted to go with Elgar Watts at flyhalf, with Karlo Aspeling dropping to the bench. Other changes to the side see’s Lizo Gqoboko and Thembalani Bholi come into the starting pack.
VERDICT: Bulls (-22.5) 9/10
With the Bulls desperate for a bonus point victory, I'm backing them to surpass the 22.5 point handicap.
Steval Pumas v Free State Cheetahs
Saturday 3 October, Mbombela Stadium, 13:15
Pumas (+7.5) 9/10
Cheetahs (-7.5) 9/10
The Pumas had their semi-final hopes all but eclipsed when they went down by 31 points to Province last weekend. They now sit five points adrift of the Cheetahs who remain in the last semi-final spot (despite going down to the Lions last week).
The team news coming out of the Pumas camp is that influential skipper Stefan Watermeyer will return to the starting fifteen. The hard running centre has been sorely missed by the Pumas. Cheetahs coach Franco Smith has made three changes to his starting backline. Raymond Rhule returns to the left wing, while Shaun Venter replaces Zee Mkhabela at scrumhalf. The other change sees Rayno Benjamin come into the inside centre berth in place of Tertius Kruger. Smith has also opted to shuffle his pack around, with Oupa Mohaje and Neil Jordaan coming into the loose trio.
With temperatures set to hit 32 degrees Celsius, it may come down to a battle of attrition in Nelspruit.
VERDICT: Pumas (+7.5) 9/10
While the Cheetahs backs have been immaculate on attack, their defensive frailties have been costing them. When all’s said and done, I see the Pumas staying within the margin at the Mbombela Stadium.
Saturday 3 October, Griqua Park, 15:00
Griquas (+8.5) 9/10
The Sharks semi-final hopes had a huge dent put in them by the Bulls at Kings Park in round eight. Gary Gold’s charges now sit four points adrift of the Cheetahs on the log. While the Sharks have had an underwhelming campaign thus far, the Griquas season has been nothing short of a shambles. The men from Kimberly sit at the foot of the log and have only won a solitary game this season. Their woes continued last weekend when they went down by three points to the Kings at the Nelson Mandela stadium.
The only change of personnel to the Sharks starting fifteen see’s skipper Marco Wentzel come into the second row, with Etienne Ossthuizen shifting to the flank. On the Griquas side of things, hooker Martin Bezuidenhout comes in for AJ Le Roux.
VERDICT: Sharks (-8.5) 9/10
The Sharks should be able to clear the 8.5 margin against a struggling Griquas outfit.
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