Our rugby scribe previews all of this week's Currie Cup action starting with the clash between the Cheetahs and Lions.
With only three weeks of round-robin action remaining, things are about to get extremely heated in this year’s Currie Cup. As it stands, the Cheetahs currently occupy top position with the Sharks four points off the men from Free State. The Bulls, who are level on points with the Sharks, currently occupy third place due to an inferior points difference to the Natalians while the Griquas are a further point back in fourth position. The defending champions, the Golden Lions, currently lie sixth and will need to continue to gain bonus point victories if they are to host a home semi-final while last year’s losing finalists, Western province, are in danger of missing out on the semi-finals altogether as they are six points adrift of the final qualification spot.
There could be a huge shake-up this week, however, as the Cheetahs are taking on the Lions on, the Bulls are set to square off with the Griquas while Western Province and the Sharks are taking on veritable cannon–fodder in the shape of the Pumas and the EP Kings.
Cheetahs v Lions | Thursday 15 September | Toyota Stadium | 19:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Cheetahs 1/1 | Draw 22/1 | Lions 8/10
Cheetahs | Lions
It’s an untraditional kick off date but I’m not complaining as it gives us an ideal excuse to crack open a few cold ones on a Thursday evening and watch what’s sure to be a cracking game.
The Cheetahs come into this one off the back of a highly successful jaunt down to the east coast of the country. Their 38-30 victory over the Sharks ensured they remain unbeaten in the tournament. That record will be put to the test this coming Thursday as the defending champions – who finished the 2015 edition of the tournament unbeaten – are coming off the back of a clinical 58-32 victory over Western Province.
In terms of team news for this one, Johan Ackerman has made on enforced change and one rotational alteration. The forced change sees Andries Ferreira come in for the injured Lourens Erasmus while the rotational switch sees Cyle Brink come in for Ruan Ackerman. Cheetahs coach, Franco Smith, has also opted to make some minor tweaks with Shaun Venter taking over the scrumhalf role from Tian Meyer, Niel Marais coming in for Fred Zeilanga at fly-half and William Smal Smith coming in for Michael van der Spuy at inside centre.
Verdict: Lions 8/10
We are in for an absolute cracker here with both teams producing some scintillating rugby this term. It is an extremely tough one to call but I feel the Lions' desperation will see them to a win in Free State.
Blue Bulls v Griquas | Friday 16 September | Loftus Versfeld | 19:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Bulls 1/16 | Draw 25/1 | Griquas 15/2
Bulls (-15.5) 9/10 | Griquas (+15.5) 9/10
Our next port of call is Pretoria and specifically Loftus Versfeld, where the Bulls will take on the Griquas in a fixture that both teams will be desperate to win. Not much separates the two sides on the log. In fact, there’s just a point between them, with the Bulls sitting in third place on 20 points and the Griquas in fourth.
The hosts come into this one off a 41-14 demolition job over the Pumas, while the visitors managed a 24 point victory over the Boland Kavaliers. A win here would see the Bulls spend 18 hours or so in second place on the standings, with the Sharks likely to overhaul the men from Pretoria with a home win over the Kings the following day.
The Bulls haven’t lost to the Griquas since 2012 and that victory came at Griqua Park rather than Loftus.
The Bulls team have won two of the last three matches between the sides by more than twenty points.
Verdict: Bulls (-15.5) 9/10
I feel a bit tentative tipping the Bulls to clear the handicap due to their recent lackluster second half displays. Having said that, the Griquas also tend to switch off during the second stanza which could well mean the floodgates open for the hosts during the second 40. Small stake on this one.
Sharks v EP Kings | Saturday 17 September | Kings Park | 15:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks 1/100 | Draw 35/1 | Kings 18/1
Sharks (-29.5) 9/10 | Kings (+29.5) 9/10
Rain is a huge leveller when it comes to rugby, and with a substantial amount of rainfall predicted to fall between five O’clock and 10 O’clock in Durban on Saturday evening, the Kings may well be able to stay in the game for much longer than would have been the case if conditions were more suited to running rugby.
It has been a bit of a torrid two weeks for the Natalians as their first loss of the campaign – away to Western Province a fortnight ago – was shortly followed by their second, as the Cheetahs ran out 38-30 victors in Durban last Saturday.
The Kings last result was also a loss to the table toppers. They went down 57-25 in round 5 but they do come into this one off the back of a bye, so they are a lot fresher than their opponents. This last statement rings true when you look at the team news coming out of the respective camps.
The Sharks injury list has been further enlarged over the past seven days with veteran campaigners Juan Deysel and Keegan Daniel - who were both bracketed on last week’s team sheet – set to miss the clash with the Kings. While Deysel will be given a late fitness test, I just can’t see the big man recovering from a hip flexor injury so quickly as it generally takes between two to three weeks for a minor hip flexor strain to heal. Even if the 31-year-old does manage to recover in time, you can’t help but feel it would be a massive gamble playing him as a further strain may send his hip flexor injury into the tear category, which would mean he’d miss the remainder of the Currie Cup.
With the Sharks facing a loose forward crisis, I reckon coach Robert du Preez will see sense and continue with young gun FrancKleinhansnhas on the flank with Jean-Luc du Preez shifting to eight in place of the injured Philip van der Walt.
Things are a lot more rosy for the Kings with centre Waylon Murray having returned from injury. The Sharks old boy’s experince will be pivotal for his current side who will be looking to cause one of the upsets of the year.
Verdict: Kings (+29.5) 9/10
This handicap is way too high for the conditions being predicted. I can see this one turning into 80-minutes of handling errors and reset scrums which should suit the Kings.
Western Province v Pumas | Saturday 17 September | 17:10
To Win (80 Mins)
Western Province 1/33 | Draw 25/1 | Pumas 10/1
Western Province (-21.5) 9/10 | Pumas (+21.5) 9/10
It is do or die time for a young Western Province side who need to start picking up bonus point victories if they are to avoid missing out on a semi-final berth. The men form South Africa’s Western Cape will get a brilliant chance to build some momentum this coming weekend as they are taking on a Pumas side who are yet to win a game and have a negative points differential of -101.
Both of these teams had week's to forget with the Pumas going down by 27 points to the Bulls and Province being annihilated 58-32 by a Lions side who have well and truly recovered from their mid-season dip in form.
Province will be boosted in their bid to bounce back from last week’s humbling in Johannesburg by the return of loose forward Nizaam Carr. The back row, which has been a traditional Western Province strength, has looked extremely unbalanced this season but Carr’s return should rectify this issue.
There’s more good news for Province fans with prop Ollie Kebble, impressive loosie Sikhumbuzo Notshe, and JD Scheckeling all able to return to the starting XV should John Dobson wish to field them. The positives don’t end there, though, as talented young fly-half Jean-Luc du Plessis is also set to return to the fold.
Verdict: Western Province (–21.5) 9/10
There’s a huge amount of talent making a return to the playing field for Province this Saturday and I fully expect them to see their side to a large victory over a weary looking Pumas outfit.