Our rugby scribe takes a look at this weekend's Currie Cup action that sees a headline clash between the Sharks and Bulls.
Last week was an absolute nightmare for yours truly. One from four tips left me with an empty wallet and a myriad of regrets. To make matters worse, the weekend had started off on such a positive note. The Sharks managed to clear the -20.5 handicap in the opening game of the round which meant I was sitting pretty with three games to go. Things got even better with Western Province storming into an early lead in the second fixture of the day. The Cheetahs would start the rot, however, as they overturned Western Province’s early lead to run out 32-25 victors at Newlands. I was still pretty confident that I’d manage to at least call the last two games right but the Kings and Griquas would end those hopes with two of the performances of the season.
Anyway, enough dwelling on the past let’s move onto this weekend’s fixtures. Round four gets underway with a clash between the Lions and Boland which is followed by a game between the Pumas and a Griquas side that will be on absolute high after ending the Lions long–running winning streak.
We then move on to Saturday’s two games, the first of which is a fixture between the Kings and Province. We close out the round with a blockbuster of a clash between the unbeaten Sharks and a faltering Bulls outfit.
Golden Lions v Boland Kavaliers | Friday 26 August | Emirates Airline Park | 17:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Lions 1/100 | Draw 33/1 | Kavaliers 14/1
Lions (-33.5) 9/10 | Kavaliers (+35.5) 9/10
The Lions 13-game unbeaten Currie Cup streak came to an abrupt end at Griqua Park last Saturday afternoon. Things started off so well for the men from Johannesburg with hooker Akker van der Merve crashing over for a try inside the first five minutes of the game. That was as good as it would get for Johan Ackermann's men as the Griquas stormed back into the game. The men from Kimberley put in a stellar performance and despite a late resurgence from the Lions, the Griquas managed to hold out for a 30-24 victory.
The Kavaliers also come into this one off the back of a defeat. They opened last week’s proceedings against the Sharks whose first half blitz effectively put the game to bed with forty minutes still left to play.
In terms of team news, Johan Ackermann has opted to make a slew of changes. There’s a switch at fullback with Andries Coetzee coming in for the injured Sylvan Mahuza. Further changes to the back division see Dillon Smith come in for Ross Cronje at scrum half, Marnitz Boshoff taking over the flyhalf role from Jaco van der Walt, Jaques Nel coming into the outside-centre berth, and Selom Gavor taking over from Courtnall Skosan on the right wing. Whilst in the pack, Martin Muller comes in for the overworked Lourens Erasmus, while Ruan Ackerman shifts to the second row with Ruan Lerm filling the vacant number eight berth.
Verdict: Lions (-33.5) 9/10
They were pretty poor last week but that doesn’t really worry me too much. The Lions are a solid side and I expect them to bounce back from last week’s defeat with a large victory over Boland.
Pumas v Griquas | Friday 26 August | Mbombela Stadium | 19:10
To Win (80 Mins)
Pumas 18/10 | Draw 22/1 | Griquas 9/20
Pumas (+5.5) 9/10 | Griquas (-5.5) 9/10
I must say, I’ve been highly impressed by the Griquas last two performances. They showed some attacking promise against the Sharks in round two but their defensive game just wasn’t there. It all came together last week against the Lions, though, with their players putting their bodies on the line to hold out for a historic victory. The Griquas are a lot stronger on their home patch than on the road, so you can’t write the Pumas off based on their opponents previous heroics.
The Pumas are yet to win a game in the tournament having gone down by 68-26 to the Lions in round 2 and then 33-10 to the Sharks in round 3. They do come into this one off a bye, so they should be fresh and raring to go.
The two sides met in Currie Cup qualifying earlier in the year with the Griquas running out 37-14 victors.
Verdict: Griquas 9/20
I reckon the Griquas will take this one, although, it will be a lot tighter than the Currie Cup qualifying result.
Eastern Province Kings v Western Province | Saturday 27 August | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 16:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Kings 13/2 | Draw 25/1 | Province 1/12
Kings (+19.5) 9/10 | Province (-19.5) 9/10
The first of Saturday’s two fixtures pits the EP Kings up against a young Western Province side that is struggling to find their feet.
Despite going down by 14 points, last week’s showing at Loftus will have given everyone involved with the Kings a massive boost.
Province come into this one without a win to their names. Having topped the Currie Cup qualifying log, one would expect a bit more quality from the Cape, particularly, considering that they have the likes of Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni, Huw Jones and a few other players who were involved in their 2016 Super Rugby campaign in their squad.
The thing with this Province side is that they seem to play in fits and starts. That was illustrated with their performance against the Cheetahs last week where, after a lightning fast start to the game, that saw them take a 10-point lead inside the first ten minutes, they feel asleep and allowed the Cheetahs to come back into it.
Province will have to ensure they remain focused for the full 80 minutes this week as the Kings demonstrated just how dangerous they can be when given a sniff.
Verdict: Western Province (-19.5) 9/10
I think last week’s gutsy display out at Loftus may have sapped some of the Kings energy. They lost their skipper, Schalk Ferreira, being ruled out for the remainder of the season with a groin strain. My money is on Province taking advantage of a tiring Kings side to clear the handicap late on in the game.
Cell C Sharks v Blue Bulls | Saturday 27 August | Growthpoint Kings Park | 18:10
To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks 2/7 | Draw 25/1 |Bulls 5/2
Sharks (-9.5) 9/10| Bulls (+9.5) 9/10
It seems the organisers have opted to save the best for last this week with the final match of the weekend seeing the Sharks take on the Bulls in what’s sure to be an absolute cracker.
The hosts for this week’s encounter have been in decent nick, garnering a bonus point win in all three of their fixtures. They’re yet to face one of the bigger unions, however, with their victories coming against the Pumas, Griquas, and Kavaliers.
The Bulls have endured a much tougher start to their campaign than that of their opponents. Nollis Marais' men have managed two wins from their three fixtures with the solitary blemish on their record coming at the hands of the Free State Cheetahs.
The Sharks have won four out of the last five meetings between the sides with two of these victories coming at Kings Park. The Bulls did manage to get the better of their opponents at the ‘Shark Tank’ last year, running out 17-13 victors in a game that was full of niggle.
In terms of team news for this one, the Bulls will be without centre Dan Kriel who picked up an injury in last week’s victory over the Kings. His place in the starting XV is taken by the returning Dries Swanepoel. Elsewhere in the backline, Travis Ismael gets his first start of the campaign. The flying winger comes in for the woefully out of form Bjorn Basson. On the Sharks' side of things, both Daniel du Preez and Michael Claassens are yet to recover from their respective injuries, while Patrick Lambie is still a few weeks away from a return.
Verdict: Sharks 2/7
The Bulls haven’t looked great this year and while I think Swanepoel and Odendaal are a much better fit than Odendaal and Kriel, I don’t think that will be enough to swing things in their favour. Get on the sharks to win this one!