So we got the news this week that the Currie Cup semi-finals will be pushed back by seven days so as ensure they don’t clash with the Springboks Rugby Championship fixture against New Zealand on the 8th of October. This announcement could have a massive effect on where the title ends up this year.
One has to think the Lions would be huge runners if their ‘Boks were to return for the semi-finals.The defending champs are currently priced up as second favourites to win the tournament with the unbeaten Cheetahs leading the betting. Things aren't unlikely to change too much at the top of the outright stakes this week with three of the four round eight fixtures being dead rubbers. The only real contest this week is likely to be the clash between the Griquas and Western Province in Kimberley.
Boland Kavaliers v Blue Bulls | Friday 23 September | Boland Stadium | 15:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Boland 12/1 | Draw 35/1 | Bulls 1/50
Boland (+25.5) 9/10 | Bulls (-25.5) 8/10
We have an early start this Friday with Boland locking horns with the Bulls out in the Western Cape. The hosts have absolutely no chance of advancing to the semi-finals while the visitors currently sit joint set second on the log with 25 points to their names. Meaning, a bonus point victory here should be enough to secure them a berth in the semi-finals.
The two sides enjoyed contrasting fortunes during their last outings with the Bulls running the Griquas riot and the Kavaliers going down by 24 points to the same opposition.
Verdict: Bulls (-25.5) 9/10
The Bulls should have no problems getting the bonus point here as the Kavaliers have really struggled against the big boys losing by 28 points to the Cheetahs and 48 points to the Lions. My money is on the Bulls clearing the handicap on their way to a five-point haul.
Pumas v Cheetahs | Friday 23 September | Mbombela Stadium | 18:40
To Win (80 Mins)
Pumas 11/1 | Draw 35/1 | Cheetahs 1/50
Pumas (+22.5) 9/10 | Cheetahs (-22.5) 9/10
The Cheetahs will be looking to secure a home semi-final – and possibly a home final – by seeing off a Pumas side who put in a fantastic shift against Western Province last week.
The hosts were unlucky to go down to Province by eight points last weekend and will have taken a lot of heart from their display down in the Cape. They are yet to win a game this season though, and I suspect that their winless run will continue this week.
The Cheetahs – who were 12/1 to win the tournament before a ball was kicked in anger – managed a magnificent come behind victory over the Lions last Thursday. Ironically enough, the team spirit that was shown by the Free Staters was hauntingly reminiscent of that shown by the Lions during their 2016 Super Rugby and 2015 Currie Cup campaigns.
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith has opted to make seven changes for the clash with the winless Pumas. The alterations haven’t really weakened the look of the Cheetahs side. In fact, I’d go as far to say, that they’ve actually been strengthened in numerous areas. One of these areas is the centres where the talismanic Francois Venter makes a return.
Verdict: Cheetahs (-22.5) 9/10
The Cheetahs should have no trouble putting a big score on at the Mbombela. Get on them to clear the -22.5 handicap at 9/10.
Griquas v Western Province | Friday 23 September | Griqua Park | 19:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Griquas 15/10 | Draw 22/1 | WP 11/20
Griquas (+4.5) 9/10 | WP (-4.5) 9/10
This is, without doubt the game of the weekend – that’s not saying much though as the fixtures list is laden with minnow versus big guns clashes. While this would traditionally be classified as a big union versus small union fixture - and a simple victory for Province - the multitude of Province injuries and the Griquas home ground advantage, means the playing fields have been drastically leveled
The Griquas currently sit in the last semi-final qualification spot but they will likely need another six points to make it through to the knock-out phase. With their final game against the all-conquering Cheetahs - who I doubt they'll get so much as a bonus point off - the men from Griqualand look like they will once again be pipped at the post. That’s not to say that they won’t give it their all this weekend, as they will not want to go out of the tournament with any "what ifs" rattling around the back of their minds.
Western Province may still be in with a sniff of a semi-final berth but I personally feel that their season is going to end in the same manner as the Sharks 2015 campaign; a round robin exit. Look you can’t really write John Dobson’s charges off just yet as they still have two games in hand but we all know how difficult the Griquas are to play against at Griqua Park and the Western Cape union really do need to pick up the full five points here as they have the Lions – who will be bolstered by the return of a few of their ‘Boks this week - breathing down their necks on the log.
Verdict: Griquas (+4.5) 9/10
Province have been hit by more injuries over the past week with exciting young centre EW Jonker the most recent man to be laid up on the treatment table. And while ‘Bok Juan de Jongh will cover in the centres, I can’t see him making that big of an impact. I reckon the Griquas may just sneak this one but my money will be on the +4.5 handicap.
EP Kings v Lions | Saturday 24 September | Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium | 17:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Kings 18/1 | Draw 40 | Lions N/A
Kings (+39.5) 9/10 | Lions (-39.5) 9/10
Our final game of the weekend pits the hapless Kings up against a Lions side that has been bolstered by the returns of Malcolm Marx and Julian Redelinghuis.
I’m not going to go into too much detail for this one as it would be a serious waste of time for you the reader. Instead, I’ll just say this, if a solid Sharks side managed to put fifty points past the Kings in torrential rain last week, then this expansive Lions side are runners to put 100 points past the men from the Eastern Cape in perfect conditions this Saturday.
Verdict: Lions (-39.5) 9/10
It may be a big handicap but It really doesn’t put me off. Get on the Lions to win by more than 39.5 points at 9/10.