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Currie Cup Semi-Finals: Bulls v Western Province Preview
Our rugby scribe takes a look at Saturday’s second Currie Cup semi-final being contested between the Bulls and Western Province at Loftus.
The Blue Bulls and Western Province will meet at the semi-final stage of the Currie Cup for the third year running this Saturday. The Bulls come into this one as heavy favourites and will have home ground advantage. You cannot write off Western Province’s chances, however, as the Cape-based side have won the last two semi-final encounters between the two teams.
So who will make it to the showpiece final? Let’s see if we can find out.
Blue Bulls v Western Province | Saturday 15 October | Loftus Versveld | 18:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Bulls 7/20 | Draw 22/1 | WP 22/10
Bulls | WP
*Handicap to be added upon release.
It has been a strange old year for the Bulls. Their Super Rugby campaign was less than satisfactory with coach Nollis Marais’ promise to implement a more attacking brand of rugby not coming to fruition. Instead of keeping ball in hand and trying to stretch opposition sides, Marais’ men kicked and mauled their way to a disappointing conference phase exit.
Unlike their Super Rugby counterparts, this current Bulls crop isn’t afraid to spread the ball and have a run from deep. They have scored some great long range tries this season, and their loose trio is a lot more mobile and skillful than the traditional Bulls back rows.
Marais seems to have reinstated mission ‘keep ball in hand’ during this year’s Currie Cup. And while his young side haven’t exactly been able to emulate their Gauteng rivals - the Lions - they have looked a more complete package than the one that represented the union in Super Rugby.
The Bulls haven’t forgotten their traditional strengths, though. They have a fly half who is more than capable of dictating play with the boot in the form of Tiaan Schoeman and a forward pack who love nothing more than to maul their opponents into submission.
Speaking of the forwards, flanker Arno Botha is set to return this week. His return leaves Marais with somewhat of a selection dilemma, considering the man he would replace is the in-form Hanro Liebenberg.
The other selection dilemma facing the Bulls mentor is what to do with his two scrumhalves. He may actually get let off the hook with regards to this decision as both his nines are struggling to overcome concussions picked up on duty with the Springboks. Piet van Zyl is apparently the more cognisant of the two, so if I had to lay a stake on it, I’d have my money on Van Zyl starting ahead of Rudy Paige.
They have certainly not been at the races this year, and their narrow victory over Boland must have given John Dobson a few heart palpitations, but Province have still made it to the semi-final stage of the tournament.
There have been mitigating circumstances to Province’s poor showing in the tournament with injuries being the prime culprit. They have had to contend with a host of injuries to key players with Sikhumbuzo Nothse, Scarra Ntubeni, EW Jonker, Jean-Luc du Plessis and Daniel du Plessis all ruled out for extended periods or, in some cases, the entirety of the tournament.
They have also had to deal with Springbok call-ups with Bongi Mbonambi, Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh all missing large segments of the competition due to the Rugby Championship.
Thankfully for Province, both de Jongh and Mbonambi will be back for the trip to Loftus. There are also returns for lock JD Scheckeling, prop Oli Kebble, scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage and exciting centre Huw Jones.
Bulls Road to The Semi-Finals
Round 1: Bulls 45 – 26 WP | Round 2: Cheetahs 43-20 Bulls | Round 3: Bulls 49 – Kings 35 | Round 4: Sharks 26 – Bulls 19 | Round 5: Bulls 31 – Lions 17 | Round 6: Pumas 14 – Bulls 41 | Round 7: Bulls 57 – 20 Griquas | Round 8: Boland 26 – 48 Bulls
Western Province Road to The Semi-Finals
Round 1: Bulls 45 – 26 WP | Round 2: WP 25 - 32 Cheetahs | Round 3: Kings 6 – 36 WP | Round 4: WP 34 – Sharks 27 | Round 5: Lions 34 – 27 Sharks | Round 6: Pumas 14 – Bulls 41 | Round 7: Bulls 57 – 20 Griquas | Round 8: Boland 26 – 48 Bulls
The Stats That Matter
The two sides met back in the opening round with the Bulls running out 45-26 victors. The two teams also met at this point in last year’s tournament with Province grabbing an upset 18-23 victory up in Pretoria.
Thought that trend was going to end, did you? Well, you'd be wrong as the two sides also clashed in the 2014 semi-finals. While it was played at a different venue, the result remained the same with Province running out 31-23 victors.
The Bulls registered a total of 310 points for during the round robin phase of this year’s Currie Cup and averaged 38.75 points per game. They weren’t as hot defensively shipping 207 points at an average of 25.85 points per match.
Province were less devastating on attack than their opponents, only scoring 266 points at an average of 28.25 points per game. They were also less defensively sound, conceding 250 points at an average of 31.25 points per match.
Verdict: Western Province 22/10
Province will be greatly strengthened by the return of their stalwarts. I think the centre pairing of Juan de Jongh and Huw Jones will spur the Cape-based franchise to victory out at Loftus.