The Currie Cup looks set to have a new frontrunner following the conclusion of this weekend’s play, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The Bulls, on 10 points, enter the fourth round on top with a slender one-point lead over the Cheetahs and the Sharks. The defending champions are on a bye this week and should thus brace themselves for a fall as away wins for the men from Bloemfontein and Durban over the Pumas and Lions respectively on Saturday will see these sides leapfrog the Bulls.
But first, Griquas will be looking to make the most of their home ground advantage once again when they welcome Western Province to Kimberley on Friday night.
Griquas v Western Province
Friday, 18 February – 19:00
Griquas are always tough to beat in Kimberley and their Round Three homecoming was just the tonic to get them on track following back-to-back losses on the road. The 41-20 triumph over the Pumas was the first under new coach Pieter Bergh and would’ve galvanised the group.
Western Province, in contrast, are coming off two heavy defeats. Their goal will be to produce an 80-minute performance after giving the Bulls an unassailable lead in their 40-21 lashing at Loftus Versfeld and running out of steam against the Sharks in their 35-20 drubbing in Durban.
Griquas are probably slight favourites at home, but I need to see more from them after the Pumas handed them victory in the form of five yellow cards. Province are due a bounce back and I sense they’ll put it together and leave Kimberley with a narrow win.
Pumas v Cheetahs
Saturday, 19 February – 14:30
The Pumas will be feeling the pressure after what transpired in the last round. As mentioned above, they dug their own graves in Kimberley through shocking indiscipline and will have to be flawless against a clinical and ruthless Cheetahs team who made the biggest statement of the tournament to date with a 38-25 beat down of the defending champion Bulls at Loftus.
Ruan Pienaar and company are the total package – they’re settled and have a magnificent mix of world-class senior players and exciting youngsters. Jimmy Stonehouse’s side should serve as a solid test but one I expect Hawies Fourie’s charges to pass.
Lions v Sharks
Saturday, 19 February – 17:00
The Lions are in dire straits. Their United Rugby Championship team have lost four on the trot and the young Currie Cup collective have been cannon fodder.
The record 50-9 thrashing they endured against the Pumas last time out was arguably the worst-ever performance by a Lions team at Ellis Park and made the previous week’s 48-36 loss to Western Province look promising by comparison.
It’s clear they’re spread too thin by the new dual tournament schedule. The Currie Cup team’s one without identity and belief. Made up mainly of Under-20 players, they are being manhandled and are, therefore, constantly on the back foot.
The Sharks are one of the strongest title contenders and found their groove in the second half to race to a 35-20 win over Western Province in their last fixture. They’ll be too strong in every aspect.
Prediction: There’s a possibility of a thunderstorm and if it does hit, it’ll limit the damage the Durbanites inflict on their hosts. If not, it’ll be another hiding. Regardless, the Sharks should prevail by at least 15 points.
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